The chapel goers - John Knapp-Fisher 1987
In the opening passage of his book, John Knapp-Fisher describes his approach to painting.
My work depends upon feeling for and involvement with the subject; the elimination of non-essentials, the use of pigment as an end in itself. That is, the quality of the painting or drawing must have a technical value regardless of the subject matter. These things cannot be dealt with by any rule of thumb.
These are wise words. Most serious painters will understand and have experienced what he means. Perhaps this is why I like his paintings so much, and have been collecting them, in a small way, for twenty years.
John lives and works from his studio in Croesgoch, only two miles from my house. He came here forty years ago and has gradually built his reputation so that he is now recognised as one of the finest painters in Wales. He is best known for dark, moody Pembrokeshire landscapes, often painted as nocturnes, the sky inked black and the buildings set like a stage - no coincidence he used to be a designer in the theatre.
But John's work has a much greater range. Though the style is always recognisable, he also paints townscapes, boats, the estuaries of Suffolk, the river Thames, and fish. Indeed, he's the best painter of fish I'm aware of and one of the few things I truly covet is one of his oil paintings of mackerel or pollack.
My collection is small - as are many of his paintings. I have half a dozen sketches and water colours, some of them painted before he came to Wales. I have some prints too - an easy present is always to buy me one of his images. And I have a stack of postcard reproductions, some of which I've framed. My father-in-law has a large original - I helped him chose it on the condition I could have it when he's gone - hopefully a long time yet.
Of course, I have a connection with the places he paints and this lies behind my interest, though not quite as you might expect. The vast majority of his subjects are of places within five miles of his studio and hence my house too. I find this inspiring; at a time when international travel has acquired an over-inflated status, it is worth reflecting that we can find a lifetime's creativity just by looking at what is around us. Sometimes we look too far and not hard enough.
It is the sign of a good painting that we do not tire of seeing it. I enjoy my small collection and I enjoy visiting John's gallery to look up his latest work. Last weekend I called by and he enquired if I was still painting my postcards - he came to my exhibition a few years ago. I recall being delighted that he'd made the effort; I was pleased he'd remembered too. We chatted about the pictures he had on display - they were from his private collection; none were for sale.
I would not sell my paintings either, for they are an important reminder of the twenty or so years I have been visiting Wales. Indeed, they are an integral part of it - part of my feeling for and involvement in the landscape, and they have a technical value regardless of their subject matter - these things cannot be dealt with by any rule of thumb.