As Roger Hilton once observed, ‘words and paintings don’t go together’ and I’m not inclined to argue. A committed advocate of ‘pure painting’, his polemic was soon deemed out of touch with the growing pragmatism and ironic detachment of the1970s. But while many contemporary artists now struggle with conceptual theory, there continue to be a few serious painters whose work embodies Hilton’s challenging retort that ‘a thought in itself is not art’.
Like Hilton, Diane Nevitt paints with an uncompromising honesty. Her approach to abstraction is not dictated by theory but is an intuitive expression of personal experience. Always starting without any preconceived idea of how the finished painting will be, she responds through the colour, shapes and marks she uses to a mood or feeling subconsciously linked to experiences of places and events – again in Hilton’s words ‘to have the feel of a work rather than a vision of it’. The journey, which has given this book and a number of her paintings their title, is subtly ambivalent: a face value reference to places she has been but, more importantly, pointing towards a deeper artistic and emotional journey, succinctly expressed in the following interview here when she speaks of painting ‘from the heart’.
The transition from the muted greys, blues and ochres of Diane Nevitt’s earlier work to the luminous and radiant colours of her later canvasses has been remarkable. After several years of intensive study in the 1990s with the noted Plymouth painter Robert Lenkiewicz, whose perceptive critical eye judged her ‘a natural colourist’, she quickly developed her own personal style, based initially on still-life and landscape. By the time of her solo exhibition at the New Street Gallery in 2000, a significant shift towards a freer abstraction and a broader palette had become evident. Travelling to France, and particularly to Italy, further opened her eyes to new visual experiences and a southern light, resulting in an explosion of colour.
In more recent years the relationship of her paintings to music has become increasingly apparent. This painterly approach was cleverly likened by Alan Davie to musical improvisation: ‘An idea will appear out of putting one note against another, which leads to other notes, and, before you know where you are, a melodic line has appeared, and a harmonic structure presents itself’. Just as music’s abstract form directly communicates feelings and experiences, so visual form, rhythm and textures are subtly orchestrated in Diane Nevitt’s work to create paintings that sing with pure harmonies of colour, sometimes radiant and joyful, other times darker and more brooding, but always strikingly original.
When you live with paintings day in day out, it’s easy to stop looking, like a favourite piece of music too often heard. But real art is never defeated that easily, surprising you when you least expect it and stopping you in your tracks. Familiar works make themselves seen or heard afresh, while the new strike a sudden familiar chord. This mysterious quality is encountered only rarely in art but it’s here, unmistakably, in Diane Nevitt’s paintings.
Francis Mallett. New Street Gallery, July 2008