John Wonnacott in conversation with Charles Saumarez Smith
Spring Term sees the return of the Royal Drawing School series of Creative Conversations; online dialogues between artists, curators and writers. Curated by Dr Claudia Tobin, lectures are held Wednesday evenings live on Zoom.
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“I practice, and used to teach drawing not as a set of graphic skills for depicting a 3D world but as an intellectual, aesthetic and physical discipline for analysing and modelling our visual reality,” Wonnacott tells us.
‘The Family’ John Wonnacott, 1963-74, Oil on Board, 6ft x 17ft. (Cover image) Courtesy of the artist © John Wonnacott
“I went to the Slade in 1958 to learn to draw like, specifically 1890s, Van Gogh and I am still trying. Since then, Giacometti has made me think about the processes of looking and Cezanne has taught me to experiment with spatial design. I realise that the lessons I drew from Cezanne diverge from those informing the explosion of modernist invention that drew so many of us from my generation into painting in the first place – but in the 21st Century that source of energy seems exhausted and we must plot our own paths."
"I worked out my personal tangent to conventional modernism over the 11 years I spent working on my 17ft 'Family Painting' through the 60s. The aim was then, and still is, to find a way to make something of now that is worthy of the great tradition.”
‘Self Portrait with Grünewald and 2 Geese', John Wonnacott, 2019, Oil on Board, 4ft x 3ft. Courtesy of the artist © John Wonnacott
John Wonnacott CBE was born in London (1940), and studied at the Slade School of Art (1958-63). He taught at Reading University (1965-73) and at the Norwich School of Art (1977-86).
His work was included in The Hard Won Image, Tate Gallery, London (1984) and in The Pursuit of the Real, Manchester, London and Glasgow (1990). Some highlights of his solo exhibitions have been The Minories, Colchester (1977), the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1986), Hirschl and Adler, New York (1999), Marlborough (1980, 85, 88) and Agnews (1992, 96, 2000, 2005, 2011), and he has work displayed in the Tate and the Metropolitan Museum. He has carried out commissions for a wide array of arts institutions, such as the National Portrait Gallery (1999), the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the National Trust and the National Maritime Museum.
Sir Charles Saumarez Smith CBE is chairman of the Royal Drawing School and Watercolour World, a trustee of the Garden Museum and Professor of Architectural History at the Royal Academy, where he was Secretary and Chief Executive from 2007 to 2018.
In March 2021, he published The Art Museum in Modern Time, an account of the development of museums internationally, and he has now written a monograph on the work of John Wonnacott which will be published by Lund Humphries in September 2022.