Harold Mockford - A great artist
“ For me painting is about recapturing the wonder. Working from the subject, be it landscape or a flower piece, I have to intensify the shape and colour until a time comes when the painting has a strangeness which feels right. My influences have been many; it is difficult to single out any particular artist. I regard all those artists in the past and contemporary artists trying to give shape to experience as my role models inspiring me to try.” Harold Mockford.
Harold Mockford has lived in East Sussex for most of his life. His work focuses on local land and seascapes. The paintings are bold and earthy and have a spiritual resonance, remind you that there is another realm of human experience beyond the physical.
Mockford’s career took off after his involvement in the early 1960s in a group show of Eastbourne’s local artists at the former Towner Art Gallery. The newly appointed curator and abstract artist, William Gear spotted Mockford’s potential, and thereafter encouraged and supported his work. In 2012 , when Matthew Rowe - now of Rowe & Williams - was the lead at the Towner gallery he organised an exhibition of work displayed over 5 rooms.
What we love about his work is Mockford’s use of rich tones, particularly deep blues, purples and greens, whether depicting the rolling hills of the South Downs, a local street scene, or interior portrait. Mockford’s paintings, worked from memory and sketched notes, are transformations of the familiar into mystic, and at times, surreal evocations. For example, “thee black hills” (1958), is very much of its time and has a similar palette to a similar aged work of “Eastbourne “ held by the Towner gallery. Such is Mockford’s love of the familiar that he never tires of returning to a particular scene or motif. Yet each painting gives us a new experience of Mockford’s feeling for – as Paul Nash described it – ‘spirit of place’.
With such a feeling in mind Mockford’s deft use of light is a key element of his success. He is able to infuse the banal – a tree or garden gate – with a mystic or ghostly tranquillity, for example the other work currently available here at Blondes Fine Art in Hertfordshire “ Sally in bed “ exhibited in the R.A. in 1974, has a room and the view through the window hauntingly illuminated by moonlight ( see close up detail of image above). Indeed, it is that element of strangeness and ‘quietness’ that Mockford seeks, and achieves so perfectly. He has said: ‘I’m a Quaker. I like silence’; and of his methodology: ‘I always carry a notebook, making little sketches. Then I paint….until the [image, although] familiar……has an air of strangeness’ (Interview with Emma Chaplin: vivaart.co.uk). Even a ‘speeding’ train – The Evening Train (1999) – seems unnaturally quiet and suspended in time.
Viewers will no doubt discern a number of influences on Mockford: Sutherland’s organic forms, Paul Nash, the British Surrealists and Alan Reynolds semi abstracted landscapes. What is more baffling, perhaps, is that Mockford is not more widely known and celebrated, this has to change and we are determined to champion his work simply because we genuinely love it.
The Towner Gallery has a good permanent collection, based on its long term commitment to collecting and supporting local artists. Many of Britain’s most prominent landscape artists of the last century are represented at Towner, and it is worth a visit if you have never been.