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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - North West

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - South West

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

£17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

£18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent