This week Wales Arts Review casts a spotlight on the Welsh and Wales-based artists on the exhibition shortlist of Llandudno’s MOSTYN Open 21 award, a carefully selected list of 30 international artists from over 750 submissions. Next up is John Bourne.
John Bourne (born 1943) is a British artist and painter, living and working in Wales, and a member of the Stuckists art movement. He founded the Wrexham Stuckists group in 2001 and has been exhibited in the group’s shows since then, including The Stuckists Punk Victorian. He has also taken part in Stuckist demonstrations against the Turner Prize. The subject matter for his paintings, which are done in a simplified style, comes from his memories.
Bourne was born in Staffordshire, England, and spent much of his childhood in Northern Ireland; his father was a Methodist minister in the Yorkshire Dales and passionate about Van Gogh: Bourne says that his earliest memory, aged three, was of his father copying a Van Gogh painting.
Bourne worked as a computer programmer, maths teacher and physics lecturer, until 1986, when “I did a Gauguin but not in the South Seas. I walked out. It was tremendous.” He has been a full-time artist ever since then. In 1990, he won first prize in the Mostyn Open 1 competition. In 1991, he staged a solo show at Theatr Clwyd, Mold. He has said that the increasing dominance of conceptual art proved obstructive to his own progress as a painter, and this came to a head in November 2001, when his work was rejected from a local exhibition: he began to despair of getting exposure.
He recalls an article about the Stuckists painting group which had appeared in The Sunday Times and responded to them:
“I liked the Stuckist Manifesto with its emphasis on painting and artistic integrity. It contained many new ideas and seemed to sum up my disquiet concerning the contemporary art world. Here was a radical, modern movement which championed painting. Some of the artists appeared a little rough and their work at times shocking, but this seemed an advantage if anything.”
He immediately founded the Wrexham group of the Stuckists art movement, the first group in Wales, along with Elfyn Jones, Neil Robertson and Geraint Dodd. In 2002, he was included in The First Stuckist International and subsequent shows at the Stuckism International Gallery in London, as well as Stuck in Wednesbury at the Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery. In 2003, he founded the Welsh Stuckism International Centre at his home. From 2003, he took part in Stuckist demonstrations against the Turner Prize at Tate Britain.
In 2004, he was one of the fourteen “founder and featured” artists in The Stuckists Punk Victorian held at the Walker Art Gallery for the Liverpool Biennial. Bourne was a co- curator, doing work at the museum to arrange the show. Philip Key of the Liverpool Daily Post commented on the exhibition: “And they are not all lacking artistic skills. John Bourne of the Wrexham Stuckists—there are now groups all over the world—paints some well thought-out subdued portraits including the pleasing foursome in Tea at the Albert Dock.”
Bourne curated a Wrexham Stuckists show at the Oswestry Heritage Centre, Shropshire, in 2005. He was one of the artists in the Triumph of Stuckism, a Stuckist painting exhibition which comprised part of Liverpool Biennial’s 2006 programme at Liverpool John Moores University.
He lives with his wife in a red-brick terrace in rural Wales, and has two daughters living in London.
Bourne is mostly self-taught. He works in acrylic, oil and ink to produce images, where visual detail is simplified in order to depict memories of both recent life and his Northern Ireland childhood. He said: I start with memories. You only remember what’s relevant. I make loads of sketches from imagination. I pin the sketches on the wall. I often look at a sketch for months or even years before I see a way to make it into a painting. It usually goes well at first but then I run into problems of composition. I have to make many changes. Sometimes it’s years later that I find a way to finish it. I’m trying to reveal something of a world beyond time and space.
He describes the genesis of his painting Aeroplane as a fear of low-flying aircraft and the experience of seeing an aeroplane—which looked like a World War II Lancaster bomber— coming towards him over the treetops one day.While doing the painting he adjusted the angles in it obsessively “to get it just right”.
The Philosophy of the Café
Wrexham Tesco Café remade as something less worldly. Organised as a diptych of sorts, with dining area to the left and corridor to the right.
The Philosophy of the Voyage
The voyagers are serene as their craft approaches the tunnel. This day out on the Llangollen canal could be seen as a metaphor for life and what might lie beyond.
To find out more about MOSTYN Open 21 you can visit the gallery website here.
This week Wales Arts Review will be casting a spotlight on the other six Welsh or Wales-based artists on the competition exhibition shortlist. The announcement of the winners is on October 22nd.