Visual research: John Virtue (b.1947)

From the feedback I received on my assignment one my tutor suggested to look more into the work of John Virtue for his use of materials, tone and scale. He is an English artist specialized in monochrome landscapes. He is doing now very large scale works with views on London or the seacoast. His compositions are ‘abstract compositions of the environment as he sees it’ (in his words, to see in a video from BBC2 Cultural show Black is his material combined with white, as he tells us that he doesn’t need colors. The large scale allows him to draw/paint quite direct on the surface with brushes and other tools like cloth to create a variety of tones and marks. Virtue’s works are landscapes with dense atmosphere, where black and white interacts with each other.

a) ‘Landscape no 268’ (1994-5) 
Eastbourne: Towner collection. Available from:
[accessed 11 January 2015]

Stefan513593 - learning log - John Virtue - Landscape no268

Stefan513593 – learning log – John Virtue – Landscape no268

As the title indicates this is one work from a continuous serie of landscapes, with water playing a key role: reflections of light from the sky. I think it is an interesting combination to melt acryl with shellac ink, water based with oil based medium, an interplay as shadow and light. In the dark thick space are some objects (building, bridge) visible. Through this depth is created. The artist combines sharp and soft edges for more or less focus. The picture lives through its stark contrast. Although abstract in its markings it is representational picture. I feel quite absorbed by the magic expression that conveys a eerie atmosphere.

b) ‘Landscape no 662’ (2003)
London: Governement Art Collection. Available from:  [accessed11 January 2015]

Stefan513593 - learning log - John Virtue - Landscape no662

Stefan513593 – learning log – John Virtue – Landscape no662

A similar picture as the previous one with exactly the same picture dimensions. Now Virtue adds thick white acryl paint to the composition. Through this it seems as the white areas (clouds?) are coming forward. At the left lower corner the white seems to receed behind the black space. The black sky contrasts with the white clouds. Less details are visible so that the composition seems to be more abstract in its expression compared to ‘Landscape no268’. Nevertheless some buildings are visible in the distant space, and the composition becomes more depth in an otherwise flat picture. Dramatic bold markings and contrast with black and white makes it hard to different between positive and negative space. However those spaces are balancing the whole composition. This picture conveys even a more eerie atmosphere than the previous one.

c) ‘86‘ (2012-3)
London: Marlborough Fine Art Galleries. Available from: [accessed 11 January 2015]

Stefan513593 - learning log - John Virtue - 86

Stefan513593 – learning log – John Virtue – 86

Very different appears this work, on a smaller scale, with more mid tone values. Obviously a picture from the surfs at the seacoast. Centerpoint the white surf in abstract bold marks. In the forefront horizontal marks that simulates the flow and the speed of the water. This is a very dynamic picture with a lot of motion. In the upper part there is a white space (clouds? coast?), positive or negative space? Not quite clear, but it rather balances the composition and brings a resting point to it. The work is done in acryl only, and it creates quite a different atmosphere than Virtue’s work in acryl and shellac ink. It is less magical, suspicious.

d) ‘Norfolk no 1‘ (2009)
London:Marlborough Fine Art Galleries. Available from: [accessed 11 January 2015]

Stefan513593 - learning log - John Virtue - Norfolk no1

Stefan513593 – learning log – John Virtue – Norfolk no1

This work combines somehow the atmosphere from ‘Landscape no 662′ and the ’86’. Abstract markinhs throughout the picture, an interplay of black and white, large spaces in one color. However, one can see details in those monochrome spaces: a range of tonal values for reflections in the black on the right side, fine vertical marks in the center white space. This work appeas calmer than ‘86‘. Here the greatness of nature is expressed.


John Virtue is applying combined waterbased and oilbased materials (acryl paint, ink, shellac) in a way to create dynamic and even magical atmopsheres in his work. With a range of tonal values in shadow and light areas he creates more depth or indicates reflections. With some details (buildings, fine lines) he emphasizes further depth and a spacial illusion. His abstract compositions show quite strong markings, the final result conveys a convincing message and atmosphere about the environment the artist observed. The combination of water- and oil-based medium together is definetely something I will try in my own studies.


For those who want to see his works, there is an upcoming exhibition in Eastbourne, UK (Jan 17th – April 12th, 2015):


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