Stubble Burning, August 1976 Oil on board 10 x 15 cm
The Barn in the Sun, 1976 Oil on board 35.5 x 58.5 cm
Red Sail Woodbridge, 1976 Oil on board 21.5 x 30.5 cm
Graham Painting at Framlingham, 1976 Oil on board 45.5 x 73.5 cm
Willows by the River Box I, 1976 Oil on board 22 x 68 cm
Willows by the River Box II, 1976 Oil on board 51 x 122 cm
Willows by the River Box III, 1976 Oil on board 56 x 118 cm
Willows by the River Box IV, 1976 Oil on board 53.5 x 122 cm
Willows by the River Box V, 1976 Oil on board 61 x 122 cm
Willows by the River Box VI, 1976 Oil on board 49 x 77 cm
Willows by the River Box VII, 1976 Oil on board 63.5 x 92 cm
Suffolk 1976 - Cobbold & Judd Modern and Contemporary art
Catalogue intro by Peter Mann
Writing about a painting he made in May 1976 Sargy said, ‘It was one of those rare occasions when I felt in perfect harmony with my subject and my painting and I could do no wrong. I understood the drawing effortlessly and the colour key I had chosen – it seemed to choose itself – was spot on so that whatever I saw, I was able to paint. It felt like the painting that I had been trying to make for years and when I finished, I liked very much what I had done. But I also had a strange feeling that I had come to the end of something, the end of a way of painting and this was unnerving and unsettling.’
Sargy’s career was defined by big changes to the way he painted. This was often the result of changes to the way he saw but an equally important factor was his hatred of, as he described it, ‘repeating himself’.
In the early to mid 1970s Sargy had been painting in a way that was totally driven by searching for patterns of colour that gave off sensations of light. Stubble Burning, August 1976 is an example of the later work from this period, the influence of Impressionism, in particular Monet, is clear and it is easy to see how these paintings evolved from the earlier work such as Suffolk Sunset October 1969. ‘Drawing had taken very much a back seat’ Sargy felt and he regretted this fact. Writing about this period much later he said ‘The problem was, how could there be drawing and colour in the same painting?… When searching for a spatial experience the eye moves very fast, it is like flying. Your eye hits some grasses near your feet, skims the field, dipping and banking, climbs up the bushes, up and over the poplar and willows and off into the sky to circle and dive like Hopkins’s Windhover. These rushing, dizzying circuits explore and build to an ever greater experience of the whole articulated space in which one finds oneself. Lines can mirror these movements; a line can make that equivalent journey across the rectangle. But every point on that journey is giving off a different sensation of coloured light and requires a different colour at that place on the canvas. How can one do both?’
Thinking about the work of his favourite painters Sargy realised that Raoul Dufy was the most extreme example of the separation of line and colour and with much trepidation (as he had ‘a hatred, a fear of any style-conscious way of painting’) he tried working in a way that was undoubtedly heavily influenced by Dufy. Graham Painting at Framlingham, Red Sail Woodbridge and Run Rabbit Run are all good examples. This way of working lasted perhaps only a few weeks and he never went back to it, but he always talked about these paintings as having been important to him.
In the last days of the Summer of 1976 Sargy made seven paintings of a group of willows by the River Box which epitomised that unique Summer. The paintings were made from exactly the same position, and in his head Sargy was doing the same thing in each one. But each day the results were so incredibly different as he searched for the new language of painting he knew he needed to find. None of these seven paintings is obviously the start of a new way of working but the experience of making all of them was somehow essential to his moving forward.
In the early 1980s Sargy wrote a series of essays for different publications on Bonnard, Cezanne and Dufy and these are perhaps the best way of understanding his own work from the late 1970s. Central to everything he wrote was a disagreement with the concept of ‘Realism’ as it was, and perhaps still is understood in art history. In essence it was becoming increasingly clear to him that the ‘reality’ he experienced in the world and also from the work of great painters was too rich and too personal to be described by some universally understood pictorial convention. This idea is beautifully articulated in a quote from Cezanne which Sargy loved ‘My method, my code, is realism. But realism, understand clearly, that is full of grandeur.’