John Addyman: Foxearth's Famous Resident
Foxearth was once the home to one of the finest landscape artists of the Twentieth Century, John Addyman, who died a couple of months ago. John Addyman and his wife Madeleine rented Claypits Hall for a time in the 1950s, upon John’s appointment to the staff of the Colchester School of Art under John O'Connor in 1955. John produced a great deal of work in watercolour from sketches made in Foxearth, Borley, Liston and Pentlow. "a perfect vehicle for my new ideas on the more formal presentation of content in landscape painting". Gradually Addyman familiarised himself with the East Anglian landscape, and both its sublety and fragility.
John and Madeleine were a delightful couple, who played host, at Claypits, to a large number of parties, and there was a continuous stream of visitors, art students, jazz enthusiasts and acolytes.
John and Madeleine were from Cheshire. They were both artists of striking talent and originality, and very much part of the post-war ‘Beat’ generation. When Madeleine met John, he was a charismatic rebel figure, rather like James Dean, who once, for a dare, drove his motorbike up the stairs of the Wallasey School of Art, and into the foyer. Whereas he studied graphic design and illustration, his teachers including John Nash, Edward Bawden and John Minton, she was reluctantly studying textiles. He was a talented jazz pianist and his artwork had a strange, casual brilliance. They were a sociable couple who then, and thereafter had a wide circle of friends and drinking companions.
John’s artwork was like his persona. The image concealed a far more subtle and complex truth. John carefully cultivated the image, and some of his most brilliant and revealing work was never shown publicly in his lifetime. He was a master in several crafts and artistic media. He was a skilled book-illustrator, and produced some fascinating work in ceramics. He could sketch with a mastery of technique that matched the French academic school. (he was often the star of local Church Fetes, doing portraits at five pounds a time). However, it was his watercolour landscapes that everyone remembers. Nobody had come close to his brilliant rendering of a hot summers day in East Anglia, which look for all the world as if they had been done with a few casual brushstrokes, but were, in truth, a clever analysis of the structure of the landscape and one’s perception of it.
John had been brought up by strict and hardworking parents Jack and Emma, who ran a leatherwork business and shop at Wallasey. His father had hoped that John would take over the business, and John was fascinated and absorbed by the meticulous nature of the craft, and, for a while, assisted his father.
It was this early craft training that led to one of the paradoxes in John’s work. It looked for all the world as if it had been dashed off casually. In some cases, the colour was allowed to run down the paper as if it had been painted in a frenzy of creativity. In fact, John never lost his meticulous approach to his work, which was painfully self-critical. A painting could be worked on for months, rejected, picked up again, and finally completed in and agony of doubt.
Madeleine was also exceptionally talented as an artist. Her eye for shape and colour were remarkable, and her influence was an enormous help to John. Even more than that, both of them used, as their inspiration for their artistic work, the intensity of the love and friendship within their relationship. It is this that provides the deepest theme in their work.
The couple left Claypits Hall in 1967 to move a short distance to Station Road, Sudbury. John found it hard to earn a living working solely as an artist, but was renowned as a gifted teacher at the Colchester School of Art. Madeleine took to teaching too, as well as bringing up four children. After teaching at Salters Hall School, she became a primary School Teacher at Tudor Road School, in Sudbury, and finally, for eight years, the head-teacher at Hartest School. She lectured extensively to teachers on Education in the Primary School, and ran art courses for teachers. Whenever she could, she painted glorious, richly coloured, sumptuous paintings which, even today, seem startlingly original. John Addyman was renowned for his work with lithography and woodcuts. He was the driving creative force behind the founding of the Print Workshop behind Gainsborough's house, which continues today to nurture young talent. In addition, he was an expert framer, producing work of exquisite quality. He was able to reproduce or restore frames of any period and was often called upon by museums and collectors for his expertise.
After John Nash, John Addyman is generally acknowledged as one of the most accomplished landscape artists produced by Britain in the Twentieth Century. It is fortunate that he lived to see a huge increase in the appreciation of his work. The rebel of Wallasey had become a renowned artist whose pictures are in the collections of every serious connoisseur of Landscape Art. However, it is much too soon to come to a final appraisal of his work, because so much never saw the light of day in his lifetime. There are the glorious icons from late childhood, inspired by seaside holidays, his wonderful book illustrations, his astonishing ceramics, mysterious and erotic. Some of the last watercolours he did, from life classes, encapsulate everything that John is renown for, the apparent casualness masking the meticulous care, the wonderful sense of colour, his academic mastery of the craft of painting, and the profound tenderness and sensitivity of the work.