Peter Edmond Lloyd-Jones, painter and teacher: born Bristol 9 November 1940; married 1973 Jane Percival (two daughters); died Glastonbury, Somerset 9 September 2001.
Peter Lloyd-Jones was a painter of rare distinction. The fact that his name is not well-known, even in the art world, is a reminder that the attributes of ability, intelligence, integrity, sensitivity and the admiration of one's peers are insufficient to ensure fame or lasting financial security, especially, as in Lloyd-Jones's case, if they are encapsulated within a fragile personality.
As a young painter, Lloyd-Jones seemed assured of a bright future. He was given a one-man exhibition at the New Art Centre in London in 1965 when he was still in his mid-twenties, receiving a favourable notice from the perceptive critic Norbert Lynton. The Arts Council acquired the artist's abstract pencil-on-paper March No II for its collection. Lloyd-Jones had already won a Boise Travelling Scholarship to Sweden, in 1960, and a Gulbenkian Foundation Purchase Award, in 1962.
He had achieved this without the advantages of an artistic upbringing. He was born in Bristol in 1940 to Daniel Lloyd-Jones, a Barclays bank clerk, and his wife Shelia. A younger brother, Anthony, was to train as an architect. The parents encouraged Peter, but there was little money to support a precarious career. After Salisbury College of Art, in 1959 Lloyd-Jones entered Chelsea College of Art, where the then Principal, Lawrence Gowing, was a great champion of his work and where he was, precociously, to teach from 1961 to 1964.
He later taught part-time at Maidenhead College of Art, from 1965 to 1970, and Hammersmith College of Art, 1973-74. His wife, the artist Jane Percival, whose teaching place he took at Hammersmith when she was expecting their second daughter, remembers the huge following of young men and women whom he taught, "because he took things to the edge, when talking". The artist Rosemary Nag, a colleague at Maidenhead, rated Lloyd-Jones "brilliant" in the classroom and agrees that he had great rapport with the students, an
ability to enable students to discover the truth of their own imagination or language . . . The creative process was a struggle, to find the truth of your own voice.
After Maidenhead and Hammersmith, Lloyd-Jones gave up teaching, despite the loss of income, although fellow artists, such as Tina Keane and Michael Upton, urged him to continue. Percival believes he withdrew because "he just wanted to be an artist". It was at about this time that he began working jointly with Upton.
From the mid-1970s into the early 1980s, these two artists, close aesthetically and in interests and influences, Upton says, were a feature of Britain's performance and installation scene, winning increasing attention through the activities of Gilbert and George and younger followers. Lloyd-Jones and Upton's Dialogue appeared at many venues, ranging from the universities of Reading and Southampton, to the more avant-garde Institute of Contemporary Arts, Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, Peterloo Gallery in Manchester and the Arts Lab, Birmingham.
Although very different personalities, Lloyd-Jones and Upton complemented each other in these performances. Unlike with Gilbert and George, there was no dressing up, words or music. "Our plain-clothes installations were really visual layouts," says Upton,
which could occupy a whole gallery or just a table. They would last between one hour and a whole day and changed over considerable periods. We didn't actually communicate with one another, only by visual demonstration. I would describe them as being more sculptural than painterly, but often they would use the materials of painting, such as paper and paint.
The performances ceased when the two chose to concentrate on their individual careers. Working in painting and assemblage, Lloyd-Jones strove uncompromisingly to best express his own voice. He destroyed much of the early work with which he was dissatisfied, and moved from abstraction into figuration. His series Laughter (9 Conditions), which the Arts Council added to its collection in 1980, is hardly recognisable as the work of the artist who had earlier produced March No II.
Although he had continued to exhibit in group shows in Britain and America after his New Art Centre one-man in 1965, it was 1980 before Lloyd-Jones showed solo again. He was included in "Summer Show 2", one of a series at the Serpentine Gallery, represented by, among other things, the exuberant Laughter paintings. In the same year he had a one-man at the Galleria Cavallino, in Venice. Two solo exhibitions followed at the Lewis Johnstone Gallery, London, in 1981 and 1983.
After his work was enthusiastically accepted for a mixed show as the Anne Berthoud Gallery in 1987, ominously, Lloyd-Jones did not exhibit for nearly a decade. For much of his life he was emotionally in turmoil. He struggled with clinical depression, and was treated with psychiatry and a cocktail of drugs that made him unable to concentrate. He had a breakdown. Even though he was married with two small daughters, there remained a strong element of withdrawal, of reclusiveness, even within family life.
The work of the land artists, such as Richard Long, interested him. His wife Jane remembers that
his great love was to cycle on the Somerset peat levels, where he would alter a tiny bit of landscape anonymously, not recording it. Sometimes I would drop him in a remote spot and he would set off with a compass and map and be away for days. Once, he told me how, lying in his little, slug-like tent on Dartmoor, the Army on manoeuvres passed him, unnoticed.
When he felt able, Lloyd-Jones continued to work in the austere, damp stone-floored room, lit by one light-bulb, which he slept in and used as a studio. Hopes for another London solo show were dashed when a dealer who had earlier been keen on his "dangerous" work visited on a cold, wet March day but left uninterested. It was largely due to the dealer Cassian de Vere Cole, who began showing Lloyd-Jones with a solo exhibition in 1996, that interest revived in his paintings.
Lloyd-Jones was a complex man and artist. "He believed that your work was your life, your life was your work, other than to sleep, have a drink and go out with friends. Eating was something that he just did to keep himself going," says Rosemary Nag.
He might give the impression of being an ascetic intellectual, with his interest in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, poetry from John Donne to Francis Horovitz, the stories of Borges and the plays of Beckett. Perhaps his other passion, for music, the consolation during the final, bleak years, from Mozart to Debussy and Messiaen, better exposes his essentially romantic core.
A retrospective of Lloyd-Jones's work was held at the Wedmore Arts for the Millennium festival in Somerset a few weeks before his death.
"As a painter Peter believed in putting himself on the line," says Nag.
His work is almost painfully intense at times, an ongoing struggle. He believed that each time you began you started afresh. Nothing must be a reiteration of what you had done before. It was a battle of the imagination for light in darkness . . . He strove to find forms for the transience of things, the idea of an experience which is intense and combines wonder.
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