Celebrating a great colourist

SLADERS Yard, the leading contemporary gallery and arts venue in West Bay, hosts a major exhibition celebrating the life and work of Philip Sutton, from 20th May to 8th July, ahead of his 95th birthday in October.

The 100-plus works include paintings from the family collection, released for the first time, alongside works on canvas, paper and ceramics, selected from his long career, and including his most recent work.

Philip Sutton was born in 1928 in Poole. He grew up in the East End of London, where his father worked selling signs door to door. On leaving school at 14, he worked in a drawing office before completing his national service during the Berlin airlift.

He studied under William Coldstream at The Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he met Heather Cooke; in 1953 they were married. While at The Slade, at Heather’s suggestion, he held an exhibition of paintings in the library, and this was when John Russell Taylor, the art critic, first saw his work.

Winning scholarships to paint abroad, Philip travelled to Spain, France and Italy. Seeing cave paintings in France sparked an interest in prehistoric art, which continues to this day.

He taught at The Slade from 1954 to 1963. He was elected a member of The London Group and held his first solo show at Roland, Browse and Delbanco in Cork Street. Over the decades he has had many one man exhibitions in London and around the UK, as well as shows in France, Germany, Australia and the US, and he has paintings in public collections including The Tate and the Houses of Parliament.

In 1963, he and Heather travelled to Australia and Fiji with their four young children. They lived for over a year on the South Pacific island and Philip brought back an exhibition of brilliant tropical landscapes. Heather made a documentary film about their life there.

Back in the UK, the family often spent part of the year in Cornwall, where Philip painted landscapes and made woodcuts. Over the years he has produced many etchings as well as atmospheric charcoal drawings and throughout his life has filled hundreds of sketchbooks with moments of sensitive observation.

In 1977, he was elected Associate Royal Academician and there was an exhibition of his work at the Royal Academy of Arts. During the 80s, his commissions included two tapestries for Shell Oil and a set of stamps for the Royal Mail. He developed an interest in painting ceramics and began working with Jean-Paul Landreau on a collection of pots. In 1988, he was elected Royal Academician.

In 1989 he and Heather moved to Pembrokeshire, where he continued painting landscapes and ceramics, as well as travelling to Italy to paint watercolours. His exhibition, My Shakespeare, toured England before being hung in the new International Shakespeare Globe Centre in London.

Since the mid-2010s, Philip and Heather have lived in West Dorset, where he continues to paint and draw, occasionally giving talks about his life and work, and exhibiting at Sladers Yard and latterly at his own gallery in St Michael’s art and craft gallery in Bridport.

Alongside Philip Sutton’s work, Sladers Yard is also exhibiting recent work by the resident furniture designer-maker, Petter Southall.

Pictured: Philip Sutton, The Magic Field, oil on canvas; Philip Sutton, 2023, photograph by Rebekah Sutton; Petter Southall, Manta Glass-top Table in bleached solid oak with steam-bent base and washed finish with inset cast glass top.