Salisbury Festival of Arts
Salisbury Festival of the Arts 1973
Exhibition catalogue introduction by Sir John Betjemen
I have enjoyed the work of Sargy Mann ever since I first saw it. I have bought his pictures and hang them on my walls. You find more in them every time you look at them, and they must therefore be bought to be enjoyed to the full.
He is first and foremost a painter of light. But there is space as well as light in his pictures and this too, as he says, has to be achieved by the arrangement of colours. Most of his paintings are en plain air and most of those are landscapes. He has a feeling for place in terms of light, such that many of his pictures of Dorset and South Devon, for instance, are dominated by a characteristic warm glow. The Northamptonshire paintings have a more neutral quality in their greys and greens, into which is suddenly introduced a bright spot of colour to show up the sober range of the rest, as with the emerald on the right-hand side of the picture named “Abthorpe”. And, like Constable before him, he has found in the Middlesex-Hertfordshire borders a wide scope for his talent.
Sometimes he shows different qualities of light in the same picture. In “Cottage Garden” he paints the particular flowers in the foreground with the brilliance of a seed catalogue, yet all are in shadow and contrast strongly with the sunlight beyond. The same colour gives quite different sensations from different areas in the one painting. He also enjoys portraying different kinds of light, as in “My Bedroom” and “Bathroom III”, where the glow of the electric light is contrasted with the dark without, and where it is the balance between these two lights that concerns him. Similarly, seasonal variations of light interest him, and he will paint, for example, the same trees in winter and in summer.
He tells me that his paintings are nearly always started from a particular play of light which will lead to the main composition. He works fast, seldom for more than an hour at a time and in many cases for much less. The more dramatic the light, the more quickly he must record his impressions. To complete a picture, he may have to make several visits to the scene in order to see it in the light he has chosen. His pictures do not draw attention to one particular object in the canvas: he sees with a wide-angle lens, so to speak, with the result that the sides, top and bottom are as acutely observed as the centre. His conscious awareness of painting began when he saw an exhibition of Van Gogh in France as a schoolboy. Turner and Constable and, still more, Bonnard and Monet have been his main influence since. He was trained as an engineer but he has always painted. He found that the strong emphasis on drawing in the teaching at Camberwell Art School was most valuable. “Drawing is to do with the distance between yourself and things,” he says, “and I am always concerned with that.” It was when he first went to Camberwell that Dick Lee, one of the tutors, suggested that a straightforward painting of one’s experience of nature could be a sufficient basis for art, and time has confirmed his belief in this.
This is his first one-man exhibition. He has concentrated on painting for the last 13 years, and has produced more than 1,000 pictures.