Beverley Art Gallery

Journey Into Abstraction

by John Sprakes (ROI, RBA, MAFA)

Journey Into Abstraction

'Abstraction has allowed me to pursue a personal vision that is full of movement, colour, texture and gesture.'

John Sprakes's retrospective at Beverley Art Gallery covers over 60 years of the artist's professional life. Most importantly, it takes us on a journey from John's early realistic work, towards his later vividly colourful abstractions.

John studied at Edinburgh College of Art and later worked as a college lecturer for 36 years. He exhibited many times across the UK.

Banishment

The Beginnings

In his early work, John focused on realistically depicting traditional formats, such as landscapes and portraits. Often using old toys, hats and costumes in his compositions, John's still-lives were characterised by a sense of mystery. His love of nature is visible in his many landscapes, especially those inspired by Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Northumberland.

Inspiration from Nature

The outlines of fields, the reflections in water, and the patches of wet sand on beaches inspired John's love of pattern and colour. The artist gradually shifted his attention to extracting these from nature, mixing abstract compositions with glimpses of real landscapes and locations.

Creative Freedom

Over time, John arrived at fully embracing the abstract aesthetics. His paintings are full of vivid colours, and many use collage-like layers of paper, achieving an almost three dimensional effect. Throughout his career, John used drawing as an important method of developing his ideas. The spontaneous drawing style feeds into his multi-media approach, where oil and acrylic paints mix with gouache, collage, gold-leaf and other techniques. The result is a true visual feast.

The Figurative Phase

John started as a figurative painter with a very wide scope: still-lives, portraits, landscapes and cityscapes alike, all with an impeccable eye for detail. His still-lives, especially, have an almost mystical quality, revealing the secret lives of everyday objects.

The following is a selection of paintings exhibited at Beverley Art Gallery as well as additional artwork from private collections.

Chairs and flowers
Chairs and flowers
Acrylic on Canvas
Diary
Diary
Acrylic on Canvas 126x126cm, Private Collection
The large-scale 'Diary', painted with acrylics in a loose watercolour-like style, shows a kaleidoscope of childhood memories, creating a unique alternative to John's usual style.
Early Morning Edinburgh Tenements
Early Morning Edinburgh Tenements
Acrylic on Canvas 120 x 86 cm, Private Collection
John's depiction of architecture shows geometric precision and a sense for the dynamic rhythm of lines and ordered shapes.
Flight of the Storm Seagull
Flight of the Storm Seagull
Acrylic on Canvas 122 x 97 cm
Although depicted in a realistic manner, John's rendering of the dynamic sea waves is linked to his love of natural forms and textures, later leading into abstraction.
Kathy's basket
Kathy's basket
Acrylic on Canvas, Private Collection
Open House
Open House
Acrylic on Canvas
Toys appear on many of John's figurative paintings, often in slightly surreal settings. Although all the objects in the paintings are realistically portrayed, these compositions have an eerie, mysterious feel to them.
Two Red Chairs
Two Red Chairs
Acrylic on Canvas
Whitby Harbour
Whitby Harbour
Acrylic on Canvas 100x80cm, Private Collection
Works like 'Whitby Harbour' demonstrate John's capacity to capture technology and industry in all its complexity, while maintaining a softer touch of sensitive colour - such as on the sea reflections or soft pastel-like rendering of the harbour walls. Similar colour-schemes will later appear on his large abstract compositions.

Between Two Worlds

John's love of nature can be seen throughout his entire oeuvre. Outdoor sketching and focusing on the beauty of natural forms inspired him to start experimenting with looser painting styles, and abstracting shapes and textures from nature. As a result, John created a series of paintings where the worlds of abstraction and figuration overlap.

The following is a selection of paintings exhibited at Beverley Art Gallery as well as additional artwork from private collections.

Alphabet Mug
Alphabet Mug
Acrylic on Canvas 100x100cm
North Yorkshire Landscape
North Yorkshire Landscape
Mixed media on Canvas, Private Collection
Single Seed Head
Single Seed Head
Acrylic on Canvas 100x100cm
Twisted Form against a Stone Wall
Twisted Form against a Stone Wall
Mixed Media on Canvas 91x121cm
Winter Landscape North Yorkshire
Winter Landscape North Yorkshire
Acrylic on Canvas, Private Collection

Arriving At Abstraction

Experimenting with different painting styles led John to discover collage, combined with mixing watercolours and acrylics. His purely abstract paintings are pulsating with vivid colours, mesmerizing textures and glittering touches of gold.

The following is a selection of paintings exhibited at Beverley Art Gallery as well as additional artwork from private collections.

Blue Circle Mauve Square
Blue Circle Mauve Square
Acrylic on Canvas 100x87 cm
Manhattan II
Manhattan II
Mixed Media on Canvas 140x140cm
Study for a Painting
Study for a Painting
Mixed Media 60x50cm
Winter on the Cheviots
Winter on the Cheviots
Mixed Media on Canvas 102x102cm
Distorted Rectangles and Circles
Distorted Rectangles and Circles
Mixed Media on Canvas, 140x140cm
Interlocking Forms
Interlocking Forms
Interlocking Forms

Celebrating Abstract Art

John Sprakes's exhibition 'Journey Into Abstraction' is all about leaving figurative art behind and diving into the world of abstraction. But what does it take to embark on this journey? Download the leaflet below to see how John Sprake's work related to the pioneers of abstract art such as Kandinsky and Af Klint.

Download leaflet

Kandinsky: Painting with a Red Stain, 1914

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