RA Magazine Spring 2013
Issue Number: 118
Academy: All eyes on Eyton
Anthony Eyton RA is preparing for his latest show as he looks forward to turning 90. Sedge Thomson meets him at his south London studio
As I walk with Anthony Eyton RA through thrumming Brixton Market near his south London home of some 50 years, we see potential paintings everywhere. Most of all, he says, ‘I want to get humanity in my paintings.’ To do this, he has painted his way around the world – taking in India, Pakistan and Australia, as well as London. The energy of the streets still pulls at his eyes.
Anthony Eyton RA in his Brixton studio, with 'Hanging Rock, Mount Macedon', 2008-09. Courtesy of Browse & Darby. ‘There is so much to paint,’ says Eyton, who turns 90 in May. He is preparing for a miniretrospective of work from the past five years, at Browse & Darby in London’s Cork Street. A painter needs action as much as choice, he says: ‘You just strike. Launch a campaign. Begin.’
Eyton chats to a fruit seller, Irene, in the market. She has worked there for 44 years and tells Eyton her health woes as he buys apples and plums – a still-life in a blue plastic carrier bag. ‘She has real bravery,’ he marvels. This echoes a conversation about his mother, Phyllis, also a painter, who died when she was 29 and Eyton was only six years old. She had just had a work accepted for the RA Summer Exhibition.
‘She was killed in a hunting accident, insisted on taking a third try at a fence, and fell,’ explains Eyton. He imagines her bravery in doing that. He wasn’t told for two weeks and wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral. ‘I inherited her paint box. I look at her paintings every day and find something new.’
In the front room at his home is one of his mother’s paintings, a rural landscape, Bee-loud Glade. It seems a portal to the past. ‘She painted with courage. You can see the strength in the light and shadow.’ Would he have become a painter if she had lived? ‘I think I would have, but maybe a different kind,’ he says. ‘My mother painted landscapes.’ He paints landscapes, too, albeit urban environments, I venture. Eyton thinks of his own paintings as part of a lifelong conversation with her. Later in life, Eyton retraced his parents’ travels in India, painting in the locations where Phyllis had painted, and this awakened his enduring interest in the country.
Back in Brixton Market, Eyton spots a woman washing dishes in a Thai restaurant. Her red T-shirt and turquoise washing-up gloves captivate him. Later, he is transfixed by a wig shop with dozens of model heads, which he says he might try to paint. ‘Painting is about solving problems,’ he says. ‘To persevere is very important.’
At his home I spot a floor-to-ceiling pastel of the decommissioned turbine hall in what became Tate Modern. It frames the geometry of that industrial space – ‘a cathedral, with tanks, and pipes, and flues, rusty things and machinery’ – in unexpected soft blues and rich teals.
‘Light and dark, rest and motion, space and close-up. All these things make a painting. My show “Near and Far”, includes works with subjects from my garden to India.’
Anthony Eyton’s work – whether made abroad or in Spitalfields, in Brixton Market or by a fallen tree in his garden – is always luminous, since light, not paint, is his medium. ‘My principle thing is light, really. So the canvas has a radiance in the end.’
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