Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fred Cuming

Perhaps because Britain largely sat out game-changing abstract expressionism, straight-up representational landscape painting is practiced, celebrated, and even, in some circles, revered in the UK.

Joan Erdley, Summer Fields, 1961 - National Gallery, Glasgow

"Abstract landscapes" (vigorous, expressive, often Turneresque palette knife landscapes and, actually, seascapes in particular) by painters such as (in no particular oder) Maggie O'Brien, Boo Malinson, Claire Wiltshire, Donald Teskey, Erin Ward, Gareth Edwards, George Devlin, Tonie Rigby, Judith Garner, Tina Brooks - I could go on) seem, from this side of the pond, to suggest a pervasive mainstream mode. One major influential precursor to the style has to be Scottish painter Joan Erdley, whose works seem like raw, stripped-down, elemental responses to the natural and the human. Another early progenitor is Fred Cuming, RA.

Fred Cuming, Clouds, c. 2016 - double click for higher res (it's worth it)

Fred Cuming interior

Fred Cuming is a Royal Academician (hence the "RA") who's had a long and distinguished career. He's been painting for more than 60 years and is known and collected internationally. He's fascinated by light and atmosphere and devoted to expressing the fleeting impressions of his surroundings, often painting the South Coast of England around Hastings and Rye where he lives. 

Here is Cuming on his approach to painting:

"I am not interested in pure representation. My work is about responses to the moods and atmospheres generated by landscape, still life, or interior. My philosophy is that the more I work the more I discover. Drawing is essential as a tool of discovery; skill and mastery of technique are also essential, but only as a vocabulary and a means towards an idea. I try to keep an open mind." (emphasis mine) The human element in his painting always seems small and sort of disorderly, jumbled, slightly chaotic, messy little awkward arrangements that he sets against serenely uninterested (and implicitly unmanageable) airy shapes and color-clashes of nature.

Cuming paints with numerous small brushes, as you can see in this short video "portrait of the artist" by the Royal Academy. He gives a pretty good formula for becoming a representational landscape painter: be constantly fascinated and surprised by the shapes and textures you see around you; "looking's what makes you grow, practice gives you skill, and endless trial and error makes you a little bit cleverer each time about what you want to say."

He was commissioned in 1996 to paint a portrait of the late physicist Stephen Hawking that I think is first rate. By the way, all of the following images are larger and best viewed by double clicking one and browsing through the rest.

He does a lot of studio interiors.

Cloudscape, Camber



There's a nice mix of minimalism and atmosphere for ye.

Here's a nice video of Cuming taking a picture from start to finish en plein air. I broke it down with screenshots into a step-by-step process. He starts with an underpainting and sketches in with a chip brush, apparently.

Step 1 - starting in the clouds, sketching in shadows, letting them stay as marks

Step 2 - blocking in atmosphere

Step 3 - adding negative-space sky and ground details

Dude's a lefty.

This is working on something else in the studio


Autumn Garden, Birdsong, 1998


  1. Thank you for introducing me to Fred Cuming's work. It inspired my day!

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