Alfred Wallis – Ships & Boats 26.04.12

A lunchtime talk by Kettle’s Yard director Andrew Nairne, introducing the paintings of the Cornish artist. Alfred Wallis (1855-1942) began painting late in life after his wife died, ‘for company’. He had no training and had worked at sea as an Atlantic mariner. Living in the fishing town of St Ives he painted what he knew in a direct and authentic manner which drew the attention of local art stars including Ben Nicholson who was trying to un-learn the rules of painting and return to a more instinctive and authentic style. Wallis painted using household oil paint and boat paints in a very limited range of colours. The odd shaped off-cuts of card he painted on often forced inventive compositions. Especially the image below where the landscape runs around the sail. He often adds his signature in unexpected places, where there happens to be a space. He believed each boat had a soul shaped like a fish and many of his paintings include ‘fish-souls’ accompanying boats – as above.

Kettle’s Yard holds a collection some 99 paintings by Wallis. Below is a 1934 letter from Wallis to Jim Ede detailing his next delivery.

alfred wallis
Feb 9 1934
Dear Sir
Receved your letter all Right with Thanks
glad you are pleased with The paintins
i have got a few more
i will send Them on so you shall have Them in Time
They was not Dry
i have got 3 or 4 Big ones
They are Two Big to send By pos
i should like for you To see Them
i do most what used To Be
what we shall never see no more
avery Thing is altered
so i must Clos for The Time
with all good wishes
from your friend alfred wallis

Andrew Nairne talking to a packed gallery.