Conor O' Connell
Top 5 artists that inspire me: 4. Frank Egginton (1908-1990)
Number four on this list, one that could go on for much longer mind you, is an English artist, by the name of Frank Egginton. I'll try and make this post a bit more concise than the last one on Paul Henry which, although I had a good case to make, I think went on a bit. I was just looking at my first post, the one on Archibald Thorburn, and realised that the post on Paul Henry was like a small novel compared to that one, so I'll attempt to curb it in once again for bite size reading.
These posts, if you haven't checked out my others in this series, are not art history essays. They are merely how and why these artists have influenced my own work. Sometimes it's easy to go off on a tangent and end up sounding like some pretentious lecturer or something. If I find myself doing that again, apologies in advance!
On that note, I always start off by directing anyone who wants a biography on an artist to Wikipedia. I'm not here to write his life story, just to discuss how his art has influenced mine.
Following a visit to Donegal in 1930, I think it's fair to say that Egginton was captivated, and returned year after year to paint the landscape. He settled in co. Tyrone in 1946. He also travelled further afield, to places like Connemara and Kerry. He is, in my opinion, the finest watercolourist of the Irish landscape, and indeed one of the best that I've come across in general. What Paul Henry did with oils, Frank Egginton did with watercolours. I hope they attribute that phrase to me if it's ever used by anyone.
'In the words of another celebrated Irish artist, Conor O'Connell, ...'
I remember first being introduced to the work of this artist by the man who frames my paintings, who was in the process of framing a small watercolour of Egginton's for a gallery. I instantly went home and did a Google Images search and I was captivated. I would go as far as to say that the two artists who directly influence my style of painting are Archibald Thorburn, for the wildlife, and Egginton for the landscape around them. He inspired my conscious decision to 'loosen up' and take risks in my landscape painting, and to look for and embrace the beautiful and exciting effects unique to watercolour, rather than almost using them as oils. He is more than likely one of those painters, like Henry I suppose, whose work is very deceptive to non- artists, in the sense that they look so simple and easy to paint. Take out a box of watercolours and a brush and come back to me on that. His paintings have such flow to them, they look as if they've been painted in less than an hour, and each one just sings what a watercolour painting should be. The skies painted wet-in-wet, the minimal detail, the delicate washes one over another to convey very convincing light and shadow. He painted not just a scene, but the atmosphere of the place. His grey skies make it actually look like it's raining. Controlling watercolour paint in the way he did takes time and patience. If you look at his foregrounds closely, all you see is quick, spontaneous brush marks, but take a step back, and grass, flowers and brambles become evident. This effective way of suggesting texture and detail without actually painting every blade of grass is something I have strived to emulate, and it's easier said than done, believe me. He just knew his watercolour and his landscape extremely well, and you need to know both equally well to make a good landscape painting.
He captured light in a way that only watercolour can do, to great effect. Each underlying wash of paint shines through the next. The white of the paper is used brilliantly.
I know I'm talking in watercolour terms here. Watercolour is for the most part a transparent medium, meaning that unlike oils, you can often see through the layer of paint. For example, when a light green wash is painted, the white of the paper 'shines' through it, which is often useful for depicting, say, sunshine on grass. A wash is just a layer. Also, in watercolour, there is no white paint so instead of this, the white of the paper is kept unpainted for white areas.
As with all great artists, Egginton's acute observation of the landscape and the elements show in each and every one of his paintings. His skies, in particular, are incredibly realistic and based on years being out and about in his landscape. To translate a specific kind of sky to watercolour on paper is quite difficult; artists often just let the paint 'do it's own thing' and 'let it happen' on the paper. Egginton did this too but at the same time made the paint do his own thing as well. You can feel the weather in his paintings- almost the temperature of the air. This is something that is especially difficult to convey, especially in watercolours. Again, use of colour and keen observation allowed him to breeze through it. (The bad pun wasn't intended, I swear). See After Rain, Connemara below for a good example of this. The stillness in the damp air is very evident, and you can almost feel the drenched grass and bracken.
Below I'll leave you with some more examples of Frank Egginton's work. As you can see, being loose and painting largely wet-on-wet can often produce beautifully atmospheric and realistic effects, much more than one would be able to get by meticulously spending days painting each branch, each stone. If you want to see good watercolour landscapes, look no further.
I should conclude on the fact that Frank Egginton's nephew, Robert, is also a very accomplished watercolourist in the same style. It's nice to see that bit of continuation going into the present day.