LEONARD MCCOMBBritish 1930 - 2018
Direct from the artist's estate
LEONARD MCCOMBBritish 1930 - 2018
Leonard McComb’s work seeks to capture the uniqueness of his sitter or subject. His work pays acute attention to nature and attempts to instil the work with the essence of the subject. When he was 16 McComb’s father gave him a book on William Blake whose theories on the connection between the physical and spiritual realms resonates with McComb’s six decades of work in its attempt to reconcile the outward appearance of his subject with the experience of their presence.
Leonard McComb was born in Glasgow in 1930 and attended Junior Art School in Manchester before working as a medical orderly in the RAF and then as a commercial designer. He attended the Slade School of Fine Art 1956-59 where he became fascinated with the medieval Italian paintings in the National Gallery, particularly Simone Martini. This influence is recognisable in his mature style when the backgrounds of his portraits are rendered on the same plane as his sitter. He did his Masters at Sculpture School at the Slade where he often worked off one model in one position for 5 days a week in a 10 week period, a situation unique to the Slade.
When he left art school he believed his sculpture to be clear in its expressive capacity, but his painting and drawing less-so. This ultimately culminated in his destruction of all his previous two-dimensional works around 1975 for being ‘over-concerned with the contour edges of shapes’. This radical reassessment of his work came after copying a small watercolour of three mackerel by J. M. W. Turner at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford; studying the work he noted that Turner had used layers of diluted Chinese white in water to achieve the luminosity of his subject. This technique of providing light that appeared to emanate from the subject aligned itself with McComb’s preoccupation with capturing the ‘inner energies’ of his sitters.
For seventeen years McComb was a full-time teacher at art schools including Oxford Brookes, Sir John Cass College, Slade School of Fine Art, Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths College, and in 1974 he founded the Sunningwell School of Art, Oxford. His oeuvre is incredibly varied, from the golden sculpture of ‘Young Man Standing’ (1963-83), to mosaics in Westminster Cathedral (2008), ceramics, drawings, watercolours and prints. His drawings and watercolours are densely worked with dynamic lines which simultaneously grant his pictures a sense of liveliness and solidity. This unexpected employment of his medium combined with the luminosity with which he applied his paint, means that his work exudes energy and succeeds in the ‘interlocking of the spiritual and physical’ qualities of his subjects. In his portraits McComb is known to have valued the asymmetry of his sitter’s face as this is what lends people their unique appearance.
After R. B. Kitaj’s ‘The Human Clay Exhibition’ at the Hayward Gallery in 1976, McComb became more widely known; his first solo show was held at the Coracle Press in 1977; he participated in the Aperto section of the Venice Biennale in 1980; in 1983-84 he had a touring exhibition with Arts Council called Leonard McComb: Drawing, Painting, Sculpture which was organised by the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford and toured to the Serpentine Gallery, London. In 1987 he became a Royal Academician, and from 1995-98 served as Keeper of the Royal Academy, placing him in charge of the Royal Academy Schools. His work is held in the British Museum, Tate Britain, Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.