John Ridgewell (1937-2004), was an Essex native, who studied alongside David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj at the Royal College of Art, before leaving to become a professional artist and occasional tutor. From an early, successful show at the New Arts Centre in 1962 (from which the Government Collection bought Deserted Harbour) Ridgewell exhibited widely during his lifetime. He and his family moved around England, from Yorkshire to Suffolk, via Dorset, his surroundings creeping into and influencing his paintings. From the gestural, heavier treatment of paint in his student days, inspired by the solid clay cliffs of the Yorkshire coast, his works became lighter in terms of colour, but more intensely intricate in their subject matter. Their delicacy was built up with brushes and a palette knife, and one can see the marks of his working in the paint itself.
His pieces are fascinating compressions of art history – in them can be read the early, profound influence of Georges Braque, a hint of British Surrealism in their witty treatment of subject, and the meticulous trompe l’oeil of 17th Century Dutch and Flemish paintings. He used the Frottage technique, which Max Ernst developed, printing from textiles and found objects directly onto the canvas. His influences were many and varied, and despite his desire to be seen as merely a landscape painter, his works are so densely allusive that they transcend their subject. His paintings initially seemed to be attempts to merge his media and the landscape, such as those from the 1960s, where paint stands out from the canvas, and the horizon line is pushed upwards by angular shapes that could be rock strata, field patterns, or Braque’s cubist reductions.
Latterly, these elisions were between the real and the surreal, as in a painting of a sheet, laid out in a receding landscape, with letters that spell out his wife and child’s names. Ridgewell also played with the picture plane itself, creating trompe l’oeil frames from which the painting bled outwards, appearing to wrap the canvas with string and even painting on the back of the canvas itself. In these later works, there is a lingering sense of things drifting into a vague, unknown distance, fading into a pale, almost tempera-like blue. In his final paintings, this blue takes over, in paintings that could be both still lifes or landscapes.
India Lewis, June 2018