John Wragg RA for Art on a Postcard

Meet British artist John Wragg RA. John, who studied at York School of Art from 1953-1956, and subsequently at the Royal College of Art from 1956-1960, has worked as a sculptor and painter for much of his life, and has enjoyed continuous acclaim for his eclectic body of work. He received a Sainsbury award in 1960, and in 1966 he was the winner of the Sainsbury Sculpture Competition, resulting in the commission of a work for King’s Road, Chelsea. Wragg was later elected Royal Academician in 1991, and a Member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1996. As such, we are incredibly excited to have his limited-edition print, ‘Untitled’ (2016), for sale in our shop.

In recent years, John has developed his distinctive style, expanding on his conception of ‘the frailness and vulnerability of the human condition’ through his paintings. His introspective acrylic portraits, usually presenting a sole fragile figure set against sweeping planes of colour, hark back to his earlier explorations in sculpture. Works such as Adam and Eve, and Mother and Child present a distorted, yet delicate, perception of the human form, reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti’s surrealist imaginations. Like Giacometti, Wragg’s sculpture favours more solid materials like wood and clay, this heavy foundation acting as the tangible antithesis to the fragile forms he often seeks to represent.

 Room of Blue Shadows, John Wragg RA

Room of Blue Shadows, John Wragg RA

Much of his work, both sculpture and painting, relies on forging a balance between figuration and abstraction to create tension. He considers finding this balance a vital part of his creative process, saying ‘for me if the balance goes too far towards the abstract, there is the danger of it becoming a pretty object. Making the tension ebb away. The tension is created by the fine line between the two’. Feelings of tension are certainly palpable in John’s resplendent portraits, which present a dichotomy between homage and innovation. Whilst his confident use of colour and considered geometric composition tie in closely to the contemporary tradition, these are elements of his work that similarly echo the conventions of abstract expressionism, calling to mind Rothko or De Kooning.

Still, Wragg’s palette is never overbearing. It is through his expressive brush strokes, and discordant colour arrangements that he demonstrates a sensitive awareness of light and shadow. His carefully designed backgrounds construct an environment that stages, most frequently, a single, delicate figure in contrastingly muted tones. This creates a salient dissonance between the two components of his paintings, drawing our attention to the almost silhouette-like figures in the foreground.

There are noticeable likenesses between his subjects; strong, dark lines indicating the facial features, a slight physique, and, most intriguingly, a gaze that extends beyond the confines of the canvas. It is through this unavoidable gaze that he is able to capture a corporeal atmosphere within his paintings. He urges the viewer to connect with the painted gaze in some way - whether it is directed towards us, to the side of the canvas or to the floor, it feels as though the distinctive gazes of his subjects exist as a suggestion of the unique, yet ambiguous, narrative behind each piece.

These reflections certainly correspond with John's artistic intentions; he asserts that ‘colour and space work on the atmosphere of the paintings, fixing nervous figures in time and space…what the painting must be in the end is alive.’ Untitled, (2016) is a fantastic representation of these ideas. In this stunning piece, a vivid clash of reds and blues coalesces on the juvenile glare of the subject, whose entire form bleeds into the background. Slices of green, amber, and white intersect these washes of colour, contributing a robust texture, and the animated brushwork fosters a real sense of childishness, an indication of vitality that is so characteristic of John Wragg’s work.

If you would like to purchase this limited-edition print, please click here.

About the Writer

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Holly Cheeseman - 'I’m a 21-year-old student, currently in my last year of a BA in Comparative Literature at King’s College, London. When not working on my dissertation, I run the KCL Art Society, hosting weekly practical sessions and exhibition tours. I spend the majority of my spare time attempting to work on one of the many half-finished drawings or paintings littering my flat.'

Rosa Torr