Art Appreciation Series: Izzie Cain on Derek Balmer

Art Appreciation Series: Izzie Cain on Derek Balmer

We asked our artists to share works from our Permanent Collection. Here is volunteer Izzie Cain's pick:


Derek Balmer, Italian Journey, oil on canvas, 166 x 120cm, gifted by the artist 2004, © the artist / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)

Exploring the great permanent collection that the RWA has amassed over the years, my eye was caught by the bright colours and warm tones of Derek Balmer’s (b. 1934) contemporary painting Italian Journey (2000-2001) made in his Bristol-based studio. The artist’s desire for unpredictability and visual excitement are perfectly captured in this landscape composition, which constantly fights between abstraction and the formal elements of line, colour and shape.

The bright oil paint colours are arguably what captivate the viewers’ attention at first and this was certainly the case in my own personal experience. Initially you are confronted by the shades of red and yellow, interrupted with hints of blue and green. The eye darts around the canvas constantly resting upon greater details and the multiple focal points created by overdrawing in crayon and charcoal. In Balmer’s most recent solo exhibition at the Catto Gallery in 2018 curator Andrew Lambirth commented on Balmer’s reworking as ‘something poignant’ with the ‘newly imposed linearity join[ing] the orchestration of coloured shapes on the canvas’ as ‘the final element which leads to the [paintings] resolution’. The lines in the centre of the canvas appear to me like fields of crops and the vibrancy of the overall aesthetic reinforces that this is a summer landscape in a Mediterranean climate.

The painting captured my attention not only because of its joyful vibrancy in a depressing time but also because the artist himself is a significant figure at the RWA. He has been based as an artist in Bristol since 1950 and his first public exhibition was at the RWA in 1956. He was given a further solo exhibition at the Sharples Gallery at the RWA in 1980 and he was the Academy’s eighteenth President from 2001-2010. His abstract painting offers the viewer a sense of escapism into a landscape away from their own and is visually enchanting through its ‘constant spur of revelation’.