DAVID HAUGHTON IN ST JUST: THE PENLEE HOUSE GALLERY
St Just, Version 1 c1955
Apart from the appeal of its moody measured abstraction, there’s a personal reason why I covet this work, selected from an intriguing exhibition of David Haughton’s paintings, etchings and drawings inspired by the mining town of St Just on the Penwith peninsula. That is because it was in the exhibition Six Painters From Cornwall which toured Canada in the mid 1950s and was arranged by one of my literary heroes, Norman Levine.
The Canadian writer first came to St Ives in 1949, a year after Haughton had an epiphany about St Just, which he discovered whilst out on a bike ride one Spring day. They became friends and Levine wrote about him perceptively in the journal The Painter & Sculptor in 1962, including what became a widely quoted account by Haughton of the turning point in his art and life: “I have no idea what caused it, whether it really was the divine and transcendent visitation that it so clearly seemed to be or merely a freak of one’s chemistry. But I do know that it was all important and utterly beautiful, a trance that went beyond logic but never against it, and that I was at home and everything was mine, loving and tender, the landscape and houses a living thing.”
Haughton continued to explore his vision of St Just over the next 30 years despite moving to London to take up a teaching post at the Central School of Art & Design in 1951. Much of his work was destroyed in a studio fire and this is the first solo exhibition since his death in 1991 so it’s a rare opportunity to savour a distinctive talent.
Returning to Levine, a sample of his writing should show why I’d want a painting he admired. In his travel book Canada Made Me, the refusal of a gallery in Edmonton to display a catalogue for Six Painters from Cornwall for fear of theft, which he considered mean-spirited, is contrasted with the panache and expertise with which it was put together: “Then Anthony Froshaug, the typographer, coming over one night to the cottage, the driftwood burning in the fireplace with a salt green flame, his bulky leather jacket sewn together in small strips like the fields of West Penwith, his hair clipped like a monk, and pulling out the long scroll of paper with his workings for the catalogue in the neatest handwriting I have seen.”
January to March 2018 at Penlee House Gallery &Museum, Morrab Road, Penzance.