John Blockley was one of the founders of modern watercolour and his muscular style reflects not just the form of the landscape but its texture.
Relatively little of his work has been seen in print: The Challenge of Watercolour, published in 1979, had the customary few colour plates and 1987’s Watercolour Interpretations was more inclusive, although the quality of reproduction, even by then, was not up to modern standards. John also ran courses and contributed regularly to The Artist magazine. His reputation during his lifetime was considerable but he has, inevitably, faded from view somewhat since his death in 2002.
This beguiling retrospective is therefore important on several fronts. Firstly, it brings John’s work to a new audience. It also plays a part in showing the development of watercolour painting since the 1970s and, in particular, puts the work of John’s daughter Ann in context. Best, though, the superb reproduction makes his work available in all its glory to a wider audience for the first time. Originals are relatively hard to find and a book is as close as many of us will get.
This is really quite a revelation. The richness of John’s use of colour and the vigorous nature of his brushwork at last become apparent. Ann has also included sketches that show her father’s sensitive and perceptive use of line and how he could create form from just a few marks.
I really hope this book does well and gets the attention it deserves. It’s tempting to say that it’s a brave publication sixteen years after the artist’s death, given that his reputation was to such a large extent gleaned from teaching and writing. It certainly should be read by anyone who cares about the practice of watercolour because it shows just what the medium can achieve and why it is by no means a poor relation to the often more seriously-regarded oils.
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