Details & Cataloguing

Bowie/Collector – Part I: Modern and Contemporary Art, Evening Auction


Bryan Wynter
1915 - 1975
titled on the stretcher bar and numbered 4 on the reverse
oil on canvas
122 by 152.5cm.; 48 by 60in.
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Waddington Galleries, London
Sir John Moores, C.B.E.
Sale, Phillips London, 7th March 1995, lot 25, where acquired by David Bowie


London, Waddington Galleries, Bryan Wynter: Recent Paintings, 10th March - 4th April 1959, cat. no.8;
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery (details untraced);
St Ives, Tate, Bryan Wynter: A Selected Retrospective, 15th September - 2nd December 2001, p.4, un-numbered catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In the mid-1950s, in Penzance, the small port town at the western-most tip of Cornwall, Bryan Wynter and his fellow-painter Terry Frost would regularly pick up mescalin from Boots the Chemist, prescribed to them by a London psychologist keen to understand the effect of hallucinogens on creative minds. It’s a truth stranger than fiction that would have no doubt amused David Bowie no end, especially as it places the diffident and very British Wynter almost a decade ahead of Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

What mescalin did for Wynter was to create a fractured visual experience, in which the world seemed to split into shards, revealing itself in layers that suggested shifts in space and time. And his work from this time – of which In the Stream’s Path is a classic example – explored and recorded what he saw beyond the ‘doors of perception’ (to quote Aldous Huxley’s text on the mescalin experience). The technical and structural base, however, is also grounded in tachisme, the European equivalent of Abstract Expressionism, in which the brushstroke – the tache - is made free from describing anything other than itself and expressive of meaning in its own right. As with much of what was going on in St Ives at the time, Wynter’s painting though is never purely abstract, there is always a sense of the landscape, although perhaps here more a landscape of the mind than of the numinous and layered landscape of West Penwith, where he had made his home and studio in an abandoned house high up on the moors overlooking the sea. Like his contemporary and friend Peter Lanyon, Wynter’s painting seeks to express the elemental. Whilst Lanyon took to the skies for inspiration, Wynter dug deep into the land, to water, fire and ice. In the Stream’s Path is a study of the chaos of nature, of fluidity and crystallisation, of lightning-quick movement and glacial progress.

Often in these nominally abstract paintings one glimpses skeletal figures, hard to read but definitely there in works such as The Indias (Private Collection), but much clearer in Hostile Tribe (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh). During the Second World War, Wynter had become interested in psychoanalysis and (inevitably for an artist of the post-war period) the work of Carl Jung, in particular his concept of universal archetypes: singular forms of prehistoric origin that are not the creation of the individual but common to humanity, totems for the magic lost to mankind through ‘civilisation’ – allies to the fundamental ambitions of Modern art.

Bowie/Collector – Part I: Modern and Contemporary Art, Evening Auction