In 1978 John Virtue had been living in Green Hawarth, a remote Lancashire village, for seven years. During that time he had struggled to find a way forward as an artist and had become discouraged by a growing sense of failure. Finally, he decided to destroy all his previous work created.
That destruction was to prove a liberation. On 10 April this year, he resolved: ‘Now is the time to become a real artist.’ It was a memorable turning point. He decided that the surrounding landscape would form his subject and that in his response to it there would be no doubt, no equivocation. Eliminating brushes, colour, paint and canvas – all of which seemed extraneous to the direct means of expression he was seeking – he began again by making small pencil or charcoal drawings during regular walks. These images, he determined, would unfold like a visual diary. With this pledge, Virtue decided the course of his art. It commenced a journey that continues to the present day.
During the ensuing four decades, Virtue has forged a distinctive artistic path. Drawings made in the landscape have continued to be the primary source for larger works created in the studio. There, the images preserving his original experiences yield a second phase of imaginative and expressive engagement that goes far beyond each observed motif. Combining walking, drawing, abstraction and radical improvisation, Virtue’s dynamic process has produced a body of work that extends the tradition of landscape painting in unprecedented ways. Today, Virtue is widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading painters.