PORTRAITS, FIGURE & COSTUME DRAWINGS
Looking at the whole of John’s artistic work it is clear that these drawings are of central importance. Not only did their making give him a vital connection to the knowledge, skill and practice of a European tradition of drawing, painting and sculpture, but they were an essential component of his work for the theatre.
From a young age he was able to make rapid, empathetic and often humorous sketches of individuals and types, but it was when he joined the art school at Cambridge Tech that his talent became most fully engaged. With colleagues from the art school he regularly attended the evening life-drawing classes, but he also helped to introduce the drawing of clothed models to some of those classes, using the actual costumes he was simultaneously working on for theatrical productions. Among his drawings from life, there are almost as many costumed as nude figures, so that not only was he developing an understanding of the human form through drawing, but of the complexities and characteristics of drapery on a person’s body. The particular ways that a particular costume would behave as the model assumed different poses was of immense value to both his theatre design work and his portraiture.
Drawing a person’s face, capturing their individuality, was a challenge that John always accepted, whether it was the spontaneous recording of a fleeting moment in a person’s life, or a more time-consuming and exacting representation of a sitter assuming a held pose. These drawings were the underpinning for all his portrait paintings.