The contemporary art world seems to be dominated by 'isms' - Cubism, Impressionism, Vorticism, Expressionism and others, the artistic equivalent of Maureen Lipman's 'ologies'. So many artists are trapped in one of these 'isms' that it is refreshing to see the work of a painter who is totally original and uninfluenced by any movement or style. Christopher Hall is his own man, an artist who has ploughed his furrow since leaving the Slade in 1954, painting scenes in Italy, France, London and Wales without looking over his shoulder to see what his contemporaries were up to. It is this single-mindedness, this spirit of independence, that makes his pictures so original and unique.
In 1955 Christopher visited Italy with a group of friends ending up in the Adriatic town of Recanati where he met his future wife Maria. It was to Recanati that he would return each year to paint the tall buildings with their crumbling facades, the local inhabitants chatting in the squares, the children playing with their pets and all those other incidentals that make such observation of life so interesting. In 1965 Christopher began working in France where he enjoys the strong colours in the landscape, while North Wales has long been a source of inspiration with its quirky buildings and sense of nostalgia. He has always been attracted to the 18th Century buildings in London in areas such as Clerkenwell and Islington, while the northern industrial towns have also attracted his attention.
'Bar Tre Scalini' and 'Bell Tower, Staffolo' are good examples of Christopher's work, everyday scenes with ordinary people transformed into poetry by the artist's brush. He sees details which we take for granted, such as old advertisements for Cynar, trailing telephone wires, drainpipes, or peeling paint and makes them a vital part of the picture. 'The Dudley Arms' maybe not a subject that most artists would paint, but Christopher discovers a magic in the ordinary and makes his viewers see Harrow Road in a new light. As he says 'For me the important thing is to capture the atmosphere of a place, its mood, its sounds, its smells, its flavour' and all this he achieves to great effect.
So what adjectives can we use to describe Christopher Hall's work? Individual, quirky, naïve, charming, humorous, beautifully crafted, keenly observed, all of these are certainly true. But there is something more, something which makes it really special - an ability to make us see the world through the eyes of the artist.
Christopher Hall was born in Sussex in 1930.
Elected to Royal Society of British Artists in 1988 and Royal Cambrian Academy in 1994. Christopher regularly exhibits at the Russell Gallery and the Rona Gallery, London.
Works in Public collections: The Arts Council, the Museum of London, the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, the art galleries of Reading and Carmarthan and the Ashmolean.
I first met Christopher Hall about 30 years ago at the private view of the RA Summer Exhibition – in the days when artists were invited to a buffet lunch. I was fascinated by this quiet yet extremely amusing artist whose comments revealed a dry sense of humour.
We got to know each other over the following years and I never ceased to wonder at Chris’ amazing energy as an artist. He was constantly working in the open air in England, Wales, France and Italy gathering material for his uniquely naïve paintings. He was very proud of the fact that he had brought up his family of three boys entirely on painting and had never had a teaching job. He was also proud that he had been Mayor of Newbury and liked to point out that the only other artist-mayor was Piero della Francesca who had been mayor of Arezzo. Chris was constantly on the look - out for new galleries and new opportunities to sell his work. Yet despite this financial pressure, his work never became repetitive or commercial retaining its unique charm and sense of observation until the very end.
Chris studied at the Slade from 1950 to 1954 where landscape artist John Aldridge RA was his main influence and source of encouragement. William Coldstream admired his slightly naïve style and made jokes about his idiosyncratic approach to art. Chris later recalled that he had already found his personal ‘way’ of painting which was to change little over the years. On leaving the Slade Chris set off on a trip to Italy with fellow Slade students. Their means of transport was a 1930’s Mercedes which Hitler had gifted to King Zog of Albania. This enormous car had been discovered in a barn in Ireland and was fitted with a British tank engine by a father of one of the students who an engineer in the Army. The students went South to the picturesque town of Recanati and it was here in 1955 that Chris met Maria, his future wife. After his marriage, Recanati became a second home and Chris and Maria would return most summers to Italy. Chris was lucky to be offered an exhibition at the Portal Gallery where Vincent Price bought most of his pictures. It was the start of a long association with a number of galleries including the Rowan Gallery, the Albany Gallery in Wales, the New Grafton Gallery in Barnes where David Wolfers greatly admired Chris’ paintings, and more recently the Russell Gallery in Putney.
His father loved old buildings and had written travel books, interests which Chris inherited. During the 1970’s he explored the industrial towns of northern England such as Oldham, Leeds, Rochdale and Liverpool and he was constantly drawn back to London, especially the Georgian streets of Islington. North Wales was also a favourite painting place which he would often combine with a visit to his old friend Kyffin Williams RA. France and Italy both play a major role in his work and he looked out for old buildings, the remains of town walls, field patterns, vineyards, lavender plantations and all the details associated with the South. People play an important role in his paintings often providing an element of humour and incident. Chris’ technique was very personal – he would work on the spot achieving a first stage of composition and colour but the picture was finished in his studio using small brushes and an uncompromising concern for detail. The results were striking and highly original paintings stamped with his own personality.
I have many happy of memories of Chris. One summer, I think it was 1998, he came down to France with Bob Brown NEAC and the late Raymond Rogers and we all painted together. While we were painting more traditional scenes, Chris was out looking for the unusual. He came back one morning excited to have found a wall with a crumbling Dubonnet advertisement in a neighbouring village. Chris served as Membership Secretary of the RBA for many years and I would join him and Nick Tidnam looking at exhibitions in London, hunting for new talent. After a while Chris would always say ‘It’s time for a spot of lunch’ and we would retire to Jimmy’s, possibly the cheapest and certainly the worst Greek restaurant in London, housed in a basement in Soho. (The food critic of the Guardian famously wrote that Jimmy’s calamare were so tough that they would serve perfectly as tap washers).
I, and many other friends will miss Chris’ sense of fun, his idiosyncratic paintings and his kind personality. I will certainly miss ‘a spot of lunch at Jimmy’s’.