Ewart’s statement on Aims, Sources and Methods

2001 statement by Ewart Johns 

Aims, Sources and Methods

“There is no beauty that has not some strangeness in the proportion.”

A tree in a wind-scoured landscape is a tangle of branches and twigs.  At any one stage in its growth the tree makes a unique shape, pleasing in its wholeness but puzzling in its complexity.  For me, a painting or a sculpture must contain these properties.  I know of no better way of describing a good work of art than that it should possess variety in unity, as does nature itself.

I have been fortunate in my teachers: Botticelli and Vermeer, Turner and Seurat, Gauguin and Picasso, Matisse and Klee, Brancusi and Moore, Sutherland and de Stael and many more.  The most direct challenge came with the inventive drawings which Ceri  Richards made, almost without verbal comment, alongside my early attempts in the life-class.

I started to paint only after years of drawing from life.  Almost immediately I adopted a semi-abstract style using firm outlines and strong contrasts of colour.  Later I experimented with a much more limited palette and tonal range.  Then, for a time, I used selected parts of my own photographs as a compositional aid, before returning to a way of working not unlike the manner employed in my earliest pictures.  So in many ways I have come full circle, but although the styles have changed, the constant aim has been to invent relationships of form and colour that satisfy a need for order and for the unexpected.

For five decades, apart from some excursions into landscape and townscape, I have been persistently attracted to the subject of the human figure in integral relationship to its surroundings, treating that figure to a greater or lesser degree as part of a general pattern of forms.  I like drawing and painting women – not least because, in my experience, many women seem to enjoy being models.

My methods include working up a painting from a life-drawing , inventing a picture or a wood-construction from imagination, using photographs in realistic works, and at other times pushing an image close to the boundary of total abstraction – but never beyond.  Pure geometry is not for me.  The delights of oil on canvas or board, of water-colour on textured paper, of pastel on straw-board and of conte, wax-crayon, acrylic and recently of clay in their various ways are enough in themselves to inspire me to action.  The results I hope will in their turn give pleasure.  I have no wish to join the fashionable tendency to make art that will shock or anger.  If the nature of my work will both satisfy and surprise, I ask no more.

Ewart Johns

South Brent, Devon, 2001