Keith Tyson moved out of London to Brighton in 2000. Having won the Turner Prize in 2002, he was seemingly present at every art opening. It might, therefore, have been a strange choice to remove himself from the centre, but he had a young family of three boys and he wanted space to allow his practice to grow. He rented a large studio in an industrial estate, first in Hove and later in Shoreham, and hired a team of assistants, all artists, to work with him to create a series of paintings and sculptures to satisfy the voracious market for his work.
I am heartened to see that there is a blackboard in the elegant "thinking building" that Tyson has recently built on land north east of Brighton, although little else is recognisable from more rough and ready earlier Tyson studios. It was at his first studio in London that Tyson invented his Art Machine, a conceptual device that instructed him on what to produce, and the blackboards on which he developed his studio drawing series, based on lectures in the Joseph Beuys style.
Tyson tells me he has spent the last four years painting, and is in the process of downsizing and letting his multiple assistants go. Tyson is charmingly modest here. "I had assistants that were so talented," he says. "Whatever they thought they wanted to paint, they could, instantly." He continues, "The advantage of being not so talented is that you are still surprised. In this work, there is loads of accident. The whole thing is an accident".
Tyson has started to embrace the unknown. A breakthrough, I feel, may have been inspired by a "found" canvas picked up from a local junk shop that he has painted over and scraped back numerous times, producing a work reminiscent of Gerhard Richter's squeegee paintings, with a twist. Other found canvases followed, with new canvases alongside, tussling with the stupendous landscapes and stags that he has observed outside his windows. On nice days, he tells me, he drags his easel out and paints en plein air before scraping back at the end of the day to prepare for the next onslaught.
There is no lack of confidence here, though; Tyson knows when they are finished. The completed paintings that line one of the two main studios are very English and slightly old fashioned in a very contemporary way, reminding me of Ivon Hitchens, John Piper and Roger Hilton, with touches of Francis Picabia, whose canvases Tyson collects. Tyson has not had a London commercial gallery show since 2007, and I ask if he is nervous about its reception. "I hope they don't treat me like they did Damien Hirst and his paintings, but I know they will." I don't think it will bother him though. There is an air of contentment about him. He is "just" a painter at the moment, and really enjoying it.
Keith Tyson: Panta Rhei, Pace Gallery, London W1 (www.pacegallery.com) to 28 MarchReuse content