This week I am in the company of the celebrated Sussex Architect and Artist, Neil Holland. Neil has been busily preparing for his latest selling exhibition Neil Holland – Spirit of Sussex at the Oxmarket Contemporary gallery in Chichester which opens on Monday 10th October.
Neil Holland is an essentially English artist working in the Romantic tradition. His landscape watercolours capture what the artist Paul Nash described as the ‘genus loci’, the spirit of the place, ‘a reality more real’.
Neil grew up in Worthing and his love of Sussex, her enfolding Downs and the Weald have never left him. He attended Architectural School in Leeds where he found his love of the vernacular placed him at odds with his modernist tutors. Modernism in the Post-War period, and more recently, has argued that place and identity do not matter. But Neil’s work as an architect and artist speaks persuasively to the contrary celebrating the importance of context, place, to our English identity. He has been described as a contextualist. His work is modern in the vernacular. When I ask him what would be at the heart of his artistic and architectural manifesto he replies “Place is everything”.
British art over the centuries has been inculcated by influences from the Continent and America. But in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the British tradition of watercolour painting reached its heights influencing the international art world. Artists like JMW Turner and Thomas Girtin were exposed to the genius of John Robert Cozens through the informal academy of Dr Thomas Monro.
It is in this medium that Neil has chosen to paint restoring his sense of Englishness and place. He cites the Norwich School painter John Sell Cotman as a particular inspiration. Cotman wielded his watercolour brush boldly depicting landscapes with an increasingly brilliant palette. The graphic qualities of Cotman’s work speak to this artist-architect.
Talking about his paintings Neil comments “I’ve always been interested in landscape, how a building weathers into a landscape.”
His work breaks down the landscape into layers in a contrasting way. The palette and tone he employs references his experience of designing buildings taking our eye through the composition and narrative of the picture. These qualities can be seen in his watercolour titled South Stoke. These scenes are about story telling, a memory, not just the depiction of a moment in time.
The exhibition is a celebration of this modern Sussex artist and architect – a contextualist working in the vernacular. It runs until 29th October 2023. To find out more visit www.oxmarket.org/exhibitions/neil-holland-spirit-of-sussex.