Dick Gilbert: Painter inspired by the landscape and coastline of Cornwall

The painter Dick Gilbert belonged to a coterie of Cornish-born and -bred artists who proved a visually distinctive minority within the mid-century St Ives "school". These included Peter Lanyon, Michael Canney, Margo Maeckelberghe, the potter William Marshall and before them the naive painters Alfred Wallis and Mary Jewels. Though the irresistible Cornish landscape and haunting genius loci provided overriding source material for virtually all Cornish modern artists it is not easy to identify a single or coherent stylistic complexion unique to this native enclave other than an emotional and frequently expressive semi-abstract landscape painting and an improvisatory or makeshift approach to the materials closest to hand.

Dick Gilbert was born in 1935 in Hayle, Cornwall, on the north, Godrevy side of St Ives Bay. He attended the local Bodriggy school where schoolboy exploits included playing rugby competitively, winning a swimming trophy and acting as patrol leader for the Hayle scout troop where his passion for hiking and exploring took root.

Like his lodestar, the revered Peter Lanyon, Gilbert joined the RAF where two years' national service led to the rank Leading Aircraftman. During this time Gilbert's artistic leanings came to the fore and when he returned home in the mid-1950s the local St Ives art colony, led by the internationally established artists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, was in its heyday.

The close community of artists was centred on the Penwith Society which offered sanctuary of a social and professional kind for artists in frequently impecunious circumstances. Gilbert became a full exhibiting member and also enjoyed solo exhibitions in the capital at Denis Bowen's New Vision Centre Gallery in Marble Arch and at the Rawlinsky Gallery during the 1960s. He briefly attended the Regent Street Poly, but was essentially self-taught, his gestural paint-handling, wild and energetic use of charcoal and general informalism linked to naturalism.

Despite its abstraction this informalism never lost sight of site-specific strips of the Cornish coastline. The unmistakable topography of Hayle and Gwithian dunes stretching to Godrevy lighthouse recurred throughout an oeuvre in which energetic and spontaneous paint movements conjured the passing clouds, fugitive light, changing sea conditions or bird flights. His "Bird Flight Down a Valley" (1970) related to his observations of migrating birds above his beloved Gwithian dunes and emulated Lanyon's vision of landscape as a vital and changing phenomenon. In 1967 he told the journal Cornish Review: "Cornish landscape exhibits a constantly changing occurrence, it has a large visual depth or distance, you can see a lot of land relative to sky, whereas in other counties the visual depth is small."

Despite his modest successes within an artistically distinguished milieu, Gilbert needed to support himself with a variety of jobs among them farm labourer, postman, lorry driver. He was also, during the late 1960s, what the Penzance gallery owner Martin Val Baker later described as "the charismatic head waiter" of the popular Harbour Restaurant in St Ives. Val Baker's father, Denys, the novelist and editor of Cornish Review, portrayed Gilbert in the 1967 article as a committed painter with a wife, Jane, and two daughters.

Something, however, had to give between the necessity of supporting a family and giving undivided attention to painting. During the early 1980s, therefore, he left Cornwall and trained under Walter Carrington at the Holland Park Alexander Technique School. Subsequently Gilbert taught and administered the Alexander Technique in Norway, Germany, Finland, Denmark and Estonia as well as London. In 1990 he married a fellow practitioner, Tuula Paavola, his fourth wife, and moved to Finland. Here Gilbert was Head of the AT Institute of Finland throughout the 1990s and conducted training courses at Helsinki University and other institutes.

After his divorce in 1997, Gilbert returned to Cornwall, where he re-established his links with the local art scene, living in a wood house at Gwithian Towans and exhibiting once again at the Penwith, at the Belgrave Gallery, St Ives and at the Katharine House Gallery in Marlborough, Wiltshire. His career had in a sense come full circle, this popular and warm character having followed his own distinctive path.

Peter Davies

Dick Gilbert, painter and Alexander Technique practitioner: born Hayle, Cornwall 7 July 1935; married four times (three daughters); died Hayle 22 December 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss