I was born in St Ives, Cornwall in 1951, one of six. My father was Peter Lanyon - a landscape painter who became a major figure in the world of art.

After the war St Ives had become a centre of the modern movement in abstract art and my father was commissioned to produce the painting Porthleven for The Festival of Britain. His mentors were Naum Gabo and Ben Nicholson. While I was tearing round the garden as Davy Crockett, movers and shakers of art were passing the sugar and spreading the cream.

Little Park Owles 1963

Shortly before he died in 1964, as the result of a gliding accident, we spent some days together in his studio making a model aircraft. We made prototype wings out of polystyrene and tried to strengthen them with muslin and glue-size. Years later I read what someone had written about his painting Clevedon Night, which had these two prototype wings attached to the canvas. They might be 'boats bobbing up and down' but I knew what they were. They weren't boats. But it doesn't matter whether this was true or not. That isn't the point - we read our own life into paintings.

A few days with him in the studio, a few days camping out in the Thames van on Perranporth Airfield and he was gone. I was thirteen. He was forty-six. His death came into me like an ocean.

North Cliffs 1968 (photo - Paul Otto)

I was brought back from Bryanston to the local grammar school in Penzance. I won the art prize and thought about going on to art school but my mother said, 'You'll end up in a corner screaming.' This was the 1960's. In the 30's she'd had to do three years of drawing before they'd let her hold a brush. So that was that. It would be twenty-five years before I got the smell of paint again. I went on to university and joined the meritocracy - the beginning of the great unwinding of the class system. It was exciting. There was a political edge - we were on the streets.

Half a century later, I look back in wonder:
Upper class background, middle class education, university career in free-fall - I should have been a class disaster. The one saving grace in messing up is you get a new beginning. If you can realise that and shoulder the weight of having taken goodwill from others and shagged it you get a new beginning.

It was a terrible trade off but I got so much from four years at university starting with Geology and Psychology. In my last year I read History of Science, Archaeology and Linguistics. I was a burning fuse - changing courses and reading stuff that wasn't part of the brief. I was after something.

Four years in academia then a job on a tractor - working in the building trade, becoming physical. The tragedy and sadness of my loss was bearable. I trained as a carpenter and joiner. I handled many diverse materials - renovating four houses, subcontracting and working for other builders. I just learned so much.

Little Park Owles '92
It was not until 1988 that I began to take my artwork seriously. At that time I was drawing and painting every morning with my son, in the days before he went to school. He always had the best titles. I'd ask him about one of his drawings and he'd say with the absolute sincerity of a four-year-old, 'Three Cows Walking on the Water'.

Between my father and my son I had begun to address the problem of what anything is, or is meant to be in a painting. If cows could walk on water and bits of polystyrene that were once wings can bob up and down like boats, then painting is alive and the better for being marginalised by all the exquisite distractions of sound and movement.



As a small child growing up in St Ives there's something about the way the sea is up there. There's a high horizon - Godrevy Lighthouse and the headland. There's this enormous bay. You're high up looking down over the harbour. Then you're down in through the houses and the sea is way up there. So you've always got this sense of going right down into and being held in this valley.

St Ives Fish '92

But what's happening with the sea? If you go out to the horizon in your imagination, where is it going left? The sun comes up here behind you and goes down over there. The sun is always going down to this mysterious place - it's actually Labrador. The fishing boats went out there and came back. You go out to Seal Island and you get a bit of it: Suddenly you're down in the swell of the ocean or over the top of it and the cliffs are black.
That sense of where you are in your childhood's headspace: In your left hand it's over there where the sun sets. When you look back you map on your body your life's journey. The way the map is constructed, even the way we see the earth is literally a construction. When you take it apart it's just history but your own journey is unique. That's the special thing when you begin to draw and paint your life in your work.
If you come here you dream of living here or coming back. If you come here as a child you never forget. If you've grown up here you have to deal with the problems thrown up with the effects of tourism as an industry - a disneyfication, a picturesque, a cheapening of values and a false glorification of its wonderfulness.
You can't escape. Oxygen is being pumped into just about everything that can make a buck for good reason. Cornwall has always been exploited and the people who live here the most exploited. The people of this place are scattered to the ends of this earth - most of them.

Mickey Mount ' 01


Matthew Lanyon 2002

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