Simply does it

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In a world of perpetual information, constant conversation, and complex debate, it is an unbridled breath of fresh air and a proverbial sigh of relief to come across someone whose view liberates you from the daily grind, and leaves you standing on the precipice of freedom.

Asking Cuillin Bantock what first made him pick up a paintbrush at the age of 11, he says, “Easy. I would do almost anything to avoid playing rugger at school.” This then is the self-deprecating, gently humorous tone that lies beneath the abstract forms in his collection Less is More, with The Horsebox Gallery.

At 79, artistic success has come late for Bantock, who, has painted for decades alongside a career as a professor of zoology, which he credits with having inextricable links to his painting. “Both the zoology (mainly ecology, in fact) and the painting have their mainspring in my having lived for three years by the sea in North Wales. I can’t help feeling that all my painting comes from knowing a certain place very well indeed,” he says. Of course, having grown up in a family of accomplished British composers (his mother was Margaret More, and his grandfather was Granville Bantock), he also acknowledges that his innate interest in the arts is as organic as his inspiration, and recalls seeing the original of Van Gogh’s Wheat Fields for the first time as “like a blow to the solar plexus”.

What is interesting however, for a man whose Oxford-educated mind clearly has no problem contemplating precision, detail, and scientific fact, is that the unerring subject matter of his work hinges on the intangible – a sense of space, intrinsic understanding, and knowledge: “I am not at all interested in topographic rendition. A sense of outside space and outside light, something which feels right for me, is more important.”

As a result of this mindset there is something wonderfully liberating in Cuillin’s work. Inspired by an intimate knowledge of the natural landscape in North Wales and not so much a passion but, perhaps, a need for the great outdoors, Cuillin seems to find, capture, and convey, what most of us seek when we venture to some remote beach or area of natural beauty – space, in every sense. The paintings appear to be the embodiment of that freedom through his eyes, and reflect his easy tone and the humor that rumbles through his conversation – it is as though he has absorbed the environment he knows so well.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of Cuillin’s intrinsic understanding of his subject matter however, as well as his ability to convey it, is not so much in the work itself but in his own relationship with it. He says that he sees a work as being completed, or simply ready to “abandon” when it has a sense of self, “only when I feel it exists quite independently of me”. It is a wonderfully generous way of perceiving one’s own work when surrounded by so much materialism. Perhaps it is the result of creating something that is so much a part of himself that he can have total confidence in its ability to stand on its own. It is an attitude that William Blake captured in his poem Eternity, when he wrote, “…  he who kisses the joy as it flies, 
lives in eternity’s sun rise.”

Nonetheless, between the subject matter and the execution, what binds Cuillin’s lifelong love affair with painting is the quest for simplicity, “I have stopped trying to make the work look like anything. I have also realized that painting is an extremely limited activity and that this realisation is, in itself, liberating. Life is complicated enough already, so why add to that?”

All in all, the beauty about Cuillin is not just in his painting but in the man himself. It is the whole story of a person who has painted throughout his life for the joy of painting, and who shares it now, not because he seeks fame and fortune, but because people want to see his work. Of course, what you realise when you really look at the pieces he creates, the layered colours, the carefully chosen hues, and the curious precision of select shapes, chosen by him for his reasons alone, you realise that the beauty of simplicity is that in actual fact it is anything but simple.

by Bonnie Friend

A collection of Cuillin’s work will be available at the Land & Sea exhibition at The Osbourne Studio Gallery,  2 Motcomb Street, London, SW1X 8JU from May 14 – June 7, 2014.