John Virtue's monochromatic landscape is from a series of views of London taken from different points along the River Thames. St Paul's Cathedral can be seen from the river, looking towards Blackfriars Bridge, its monumental dome modelled in viscous black paint. Initially, it seems as if little else is distinguishable, but gradually other details start to emerge, such as the faÃ§ades of riverside houses, highlighted in white. This painting and 'Landscape No 662', another work by John Virtue in the Government Art Collection, are the result of a unique working process which Virtue has developed during his career. He applies paint to the canvas using a wide gamut of tools, including brushes, rollers, basting syringes, spray guns and calligraphy brushes, and sometimes even his fingers and toes.
Born in Accrington, Lancashire, John Virtue studied under Frank Auerbach at the Slade School of Art in London from 1965 to 1969 and taught at Liverpool Polytechnic in the 1970s. Despite his dedication to painting and admiration of Turner and Constable, he felt a need to review his approach to landscape painting. He radically changed his working process and began painting mainly in black and white, frequently using shellac, an oil-based material previously used to make 78 rpm gramophone records. In the late 1980s he began painting on large canvases, a move perhaps inspired by the sweeping landscape of Devon, where he moved to in 1988. He was appointed sixth National Gallery Associate Artist in 2003, a position accompanied by a major exhibition of his paintings there in spring 2005.
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