PEOPLE and PLACES
The Art of JOHN AUGUSTUS AVIS
Photograph by David Berisford
"I was employed in full-time appointments in various higher education establishments overseas and in the UK. These were all quite demanding, with special responsibilities, working in conditions of change and development.
Nevertheless, I continued to produce my own personal work in painting and drawing which was essential to my growth as an artist. This work, which has been based on my direct observation of people, places and objects, was greatly enriched by the contrasting variety of locations and cultures abroad and in the UK.
LONDON and NATIONAL SERVICE in GERMANY
After completing my studies at the Slade, I felt that I needed to escape from the system of studio set-up subject matter, and to get out and look at life around me where I lived in London. I began to do this during the six months before being called up to do two years National Service in the Army, stationed in Northern Germany in the industrial mining region near Essen.
This experience gave me plenty of opportunities to find scenes which reflected life in this place in this time, with new personal contacts, which expanded my awareness of human character and behaviour. On release from the Army, I returned to London and continued painting the South London scene - Elephant and Castle, Stockwell, Brixton - and I took on a variety of professional appointments which related to my personal work.
In 1961, I married my love, Susan, also an ex-Camberwell art student and post-Grad at Goldsmiths. Together, our main sources of visual references remained being in the South London. Work produced in these early years included three large paintings (up to 6' wide) which related to Elephant and Castle pubs; as well as Stockwell Window (Durrand Gardens), and Milan Terminus (Waiting Room). Portraits and objects were also painted.
RHYTHM AND MOVEMENT in GHANA
In 1964, I took up my first appointment in Africa, in Kumasi, Ghana. This major change in our environment inspired new developments in my painting, based on direct observation of life in this large capital city of the Ashanti region.
Even though it was expected that the degree Painting students should be aware of developments in the international art scene, i was concerned that practical studio projects should not be limited to the, then, typical art college studio exercises derived from basic design/Bauhaus theories, as was currently being practised in England. It seemed to me that such work should also be related to the students' indigenous cultural background, and this led us to the conclusion that the dynamic element that was most strongly evident in their lives was that of
rhythm and movement.
Their directly painted response to their own spontaneous playing and recorded West African music produced some remarkable results, which influenced their future image making work. This experience also continued to influence my own work, even after my return to England.
ZAMBIA and BEYOND
In 1970, I returned to Africa to take up the post of Head of a new School of Art in Lusaka, Zambia. This period was marked by difficulties arising from changes in Government - Ministers and new foreign advisors being put in control of the budget. However, by the end of my three-year contract, I had set up and staffed courses in the range of art and craft subjects needed in the new School of Art, but it was obvious that the promised accommodation was not going to be forthcoming.
My personal creative work was much restricted in Lusaka, but we were able to travel south to Livingston to draw and paint by the Victoria Falls (known locally as Mosi O Tunya - 'The Smoke That Thunders'), and along the Zambezi river.
We also drove across the border into Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) stopping along the way to draw at the Zimbabwe Ruins site, continuing on to Biera, Mozambique, where I painted. We did make another short holiday visit to the Victoria Falls area, from England, in the 90s.
RETURN TO ENGLAND and FURTHER TRAVELS
The years spent in posts in art schools in England after return from Zambia (Doncaster and Chelsea), have provided opportunities for more direct observation in different English landscapes - particularly South Yorkshire, Wales and Sussex coast.
The situation in Doncaster was stimulating and productive. We lived in the nearby village of Hatfield, adjacent to Hatfield Colliery, which gave us access to the mining landscape and community. In addition, the Yorkshire countryside was very rewarding for spatial studies.
After we returned to London in 1979, I was able to revisit past painting venues in South Wales and Sussex.
In 1986, I took a sabbatical from Chelsea School of Art, and spent several weeks on a drawing and painting project along the East Sussex coast near Beachy Head. Adverse weather conditions here led to a diversion to the Spanish coast near Nerja, where I continued my work.
In recent years I have developed my painting with a particular interest in rhythm and movement depicted in cloud formation. This interest derives from paintings I have done in the Black Mountains area in Wales, and it probably links up with the dynamics explored in previous African music paintings.
In addition to these 'sky' paintings, I have continued to produce work in response to visits and journeys to China, Spain, New Zealand, and Fiji, as well as more paintings in Wales and local London sites."
writing in 2008
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