The Great Central Valley is a 450 mile stretch of land that dominates the centre of California. It's wildly fertile; it provides more than half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the US. But it's also pretty uninteresting to look at, with its long expanses of regimented flat farmland. However, the Great Central Valley is not boring to artist Poul Webb. In fact, it was where his arresting geometric approach to landscape painting was born.
This was many years ago, when Poul was living in the US. After leaving Cambridge School of Art, he had travelled to New York to work as a designer. He even got a memorable gig contributing design ideas for Andy Warhol’s ‘Interview’ magazine. But he painted too – mostly portraits, still lives and architectural subjects. Poul's head was turned when he first witnessed the unusual landscape style of American artists such as Grant Wood and Edward Hopper in the great New York art museums. This was work you just couldn't see in the UK back then.
It gave Poul new ideas. Later, as he travelled across California these ideas coalesced. He loved the geometry of the man-made environment, and began incorporating it into his painting. It's an approach that gifted him a many decades-long career and a deserved reputation as one of the UK's most distinctive landscapists.
Poul's work has been exhibited all over the world. He has had shows at the Museum of Modern Art in Rijeka and the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao. His work is held in private collections in Canada, America, Mexico, Europe and Australia. Before joining the Catto roster, he hosted 16 solo exhibitions in Mayfair.
In this show, Poul's third for the Catto, we see the latest iteration of the artist's ideas inspired by some of Europe's most picturesque locations: Andalucía, Provence, Sicily, The Douro, Dordogne, Chianti and more. Whatever the destination, Poul's process is the same. "There's a lot of driving involved, usually getting lost on minor roads," he jokes. "But where I can I pull over to sit and do watercolour sketches and take photos. Back in the studio I use the photos and sketches to create a definitive image in watercolour that I then square up for transfer to canvas."
Today, Poul continues to find inspiration in the man-made environment – in lavender fields, tea plantations, vineyards, sunflower fields. He then overlays them with his unique colour combinations, pairing vivid purple hills with meadows of striped yellow and red. "On my travels I realised that certain colours begin to dominate certain areas," he explains. "Tuscany for instance has a warm dry climate and the colours and light are warm too, yellows and browns in particular. French colours, depending on which region, are slightly cooler. I regard myself as a colourist and the colours I use are very deliberate."
While we enjoy the lovely new work in this current exhibition, Poul will continue his quest for creative fuel. He says he hasn't yet travelled to the Far East, and has the exotic vistas of Malaysia, China and Vietnam on his wish list. Should be well worth waiting for.
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