THE painter John Minton’s lively illustrations were very familiar to British people during the gloomy post-war years of the 1940s and ‘50s. His imitable style, which was instantly recognisable, appeared on film posters, textiles and book covers and captured the spirit of the times. Minton was a leading illustrator and a highly influential tutor at the Royal College of Art who worked in the Neo-Romantic tradition. He was also a prolific figurative painter and muralist and it this aspect of his work that the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester celebrates in a new exhibition. On display are wartime landscapes and paintings that explore current events of the time and book illustrations, posters and lithographs. Other work includes portraits of male students, friends and his partner, Raymond Ray.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Minton registered as a conscientious objector but later served with the Royal Pioneer Corps. During this time he collaborated with the artist, Michael Ayrton in designing sets and costumes for John Gielgud’s production of Macbeth. Travelling to Europe and the Caribbean after the war, he became fascinated by the vibrancy of Jamaica where he identified “a disquiet that is potent and nameless”.
His impressions of life there manifest in his arresting twilight scene entitled Jamaican Village, a striking mural in deep green, fuchsia and acid hues that simmer with racial and political tension. Minton refused to conform to abstraction and preferred to paint figuratively. His paintings also reflect his conflict of emotions as a gay artist as he produced work at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain.
In Corsica, Minton produced illustrations for Elizabeth David’s iconic book on Mediterranean food. While her recipes of garlic, wine and olives revitalised appetites dampened by the monotony of war-time rationing, Minton’s depiction of sunny seas and al fresco dining hinted optimistically at a better lifestyle.
by Miranda Charalambous
The exhibition, John Minton: A Centenary is on until October 1 at the Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 1TJ
Telephone: +44 (0)1243 774557
Front page image: John Minton, Bridge from Cannon Street Station, 1946, Oil on canvas, 49 x 60cm, Pembroke College, Oxford, JCR Art Collection. Photograph: Courtesy of Royal College of Art