Ron Delavigne’s extraordinary images were defined by his experiences as a Far East POW from 1942 to 1945. Trained at St Martins, his paintings always had a strong brooding mood and he was highly regarded by his contemporaries for his fine draughtsmanship and sensitivity. This exhibition concentrates on his late work which is characterised by its increasingly spare and focussed imagery. What finally surfaced from deep within were haunting, inexplicable images that spoke indirectly. Not specifically ‘war paintings’, but images that had emerged from an artist who had been forced to look at the core of things and has witnessed humanity stripped down and laid bare.
Despite some early success with a solo show at the Alwin Gallery, London and his work collected by some prominent figures, Delavigne shunned the art world and preferred a quiet, almost hermitic existence, his paintings known only to a few. This is the first time these works have been seen in public.
A reoccurring theme in Delavigne's work was his haunting images of owls perched on a post. It was, perhaps, an image that stood in for the suppressed memory of experience. At the age of 79, he transformed it, for one time only, to a decapitated head on a stick with flies buzzing around: the gruesome punishment he had witnessed in Changi jail. The painting 'The Time of Silence' is now in the Imperial War Museum Collection. A full size reproduction will form part of the Highgate show. Visitors to the exhibition will be also be able to listen to Delavigne’s moving testament recorded for the Imperial War Museum in 1998.
Delavigne’s troubled imagery was rendered in the English romantic landscape tradition to which he had his stylistic roots. Although certainly influenced by Goya’s etchings and Black Paintings, Delavigne was never an overt expressionist. It seems that he couldn’t help but instil his disturbing images with a quiet English poetry. The potent mix of subtle lyricism with stark imagery is compelling. There is an exhilarating mix of delicacy and rawness, beauty and bleakness.
Ron Delavigne lived his whole life in Highgate and died aged 94 in 2013. His gravestone, in the form of an artist’s palette, is in Highgate Cemetery. It is, of course, entirely appropriate to hold this exhibition in Highgate, where his widow Rita Delavigne continues to live.
A catalogue will accompany the show.
To coincide with ‘Paintings of Ron Delavigne 1919 -2013’ the Gallery is excited to host a Discussion Event on Sunday 17 April, 5-7pm, exploring the theme of Art, War and the Role of Memory. We are delighted to have as guest panellists Richard Cork, Albyn Leah Hall, John Keane and Dr Glenn Sujo. It will be chaired by Estelle Lovatt.