Art: Private View - John Virtue
This is John Virtue's first show in London since 1996 - the year that he left South Tawton, the landscape that was his home and the subject of his every picture for over 10 years. His work, and by extension his life, was deeply rooted in that particular place, and it was hard to imagine how he would cope with the change.
From the evidence of the recent work now showing in Cork Street, the move to Exeter has done nothing to diminish the intensity that has long made Virtue's vision of the landscape such a compelling one. He still paints the same place time and again, though now it is from memory back in the studio - a memory fuelled by his weekly walks on the banks of the River Exe, scribbling in the pages of little sketchbooks.
In the last two years he's made over 5,000 of these instant studies of weather and of a landscape glimpsed as he walks along. Not so much sketches as a kind of frenetic shorthand, a language of his own invented to feed the making of the paintings. Gone are the days of working on site in the rain and dirt, though the spirit of place is strong and the weather stills seems like a palpable part of the process. These new paintings are as elemental as ever - even the tiny ones have a vastness about them.
John Virtue, Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art, London W1 (0171-434 1318) to 24 April
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