ART WORTH DYING FOR: JAMES DICKSON INNES

Here’s how this week’s arts and culture piece begins:

James Dickson Innes (1887-1914) was a British landscape painter of whom I learnedwhile thumbing through “Pastures Green and Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape” by Tim Barringer and Oliver Fairclough. All the landscapes spoke to me, but Innes’s, of a mountain in North Wales, made my heart stop.

The mountain in question is Arenig Fawr which, 2800 feet high and twin-peaked, is located in a wind-blown, desolate spot in Snowdonia.

Born in Llanelli, Innes studied at Carmarthen Art School and the Slade. A colleague there noted that he ‘was of middle height, black haired and thin featured, handsome to many people… there may have been something satanic in his look.”… He was already dying of tuberculosis, having been diagnosed at 21.

Shortly thereafter, Innes traveled to North Wales and was captivated—obsessed might be a better word—by Aernig Fawr’s brooding majesty. He painted impulsively and passionately, almost as if he and the mountain shared a secret language. His sensibility, talent, and bold, saturated colors—vermilion, citron, Prussian blue—were noticed by the far better known (and far more notorious) Post-Impressionist painter Augustus John, nine years Innes’ senior. John ended up moving to North Wales himself where he and Innes became friends, rented a stone farmhouse, drank, caroused and tramped the cold, dank mountains. But above all, they painted. Their work was exhibited in New York in 1913, alongside that of Cézanne, Gauguin, and Picasso.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

3 Replies to “ART WORTH DYING FOR: JAMES DICKSON INNES”

  1. Stephen Sparrow says: Reply

    Thanks Heather – really enjoyed that BBC doco as well

  2. Twinkle Dad says: Reply

    I read the full version of your post on Angelus and curiously identified with the idea of pursuing one’s art relentlessly in the face of — or perhaps in spite of — one’s own inevitable demise. It reminded me of one of my own poems, written in my twenties, as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek self-eulogy. I won’t intrude into your blog with my own writing (not cool). But suffice it to say that Innes’ painting of Arenig Fawr captures a familiar sense of compulsive expression.

    TD

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, there is something so achingly of the inextinguishable life force in these artists who continue working in the face of death…of course feel free to post link to your blog and people can check it out if so moved. Also, Bill–I am two thirds of the way through White Goats and Black Bees–loving it! I, too, want to smoke my own hams in the chimney, make gorse wine, and help mid-wife a baby goat. Although I’m sure I’m way too weak and squeamish…Did you know Mary was arrested as a Syrian spy or something like that when she was younger and spent a year in an Israeli prison? I discovered while googling last night. Long live compulsive expression!

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