Hugh Buchanan

• Watercolours •


APOLLO 1994 The Painter as Poet Giles Auty


What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose garden

TS Eliot, Burnt Norton


Although widely thought of and admired as a painter of architecture, Buchanan does not deal primarily in great facades or vistas as topographical painters habitually did from the 17th century onwards. He treats architectural detail with respect yet often seizes upon and isolates it for poetic effect. While many excellent painters of imposing buildings have been somewhat prosaic in their vision, Buchanan hunts down the telling fragments which may contain an essence of the whole.


In Buchanan’s watercolours time is neither in the present nor strictly in the past, yet his works do not deal in anything so simple as nostalgia either. Rather their time and special lighting emanate from the frozen moments of dreams and imaginings.


The new Petworth watercolours demonstrate the artists customary elegance and panache together with new strands of expression. The familiar vocabulary is there : accurate but economical drawing, unusual viewpoints, fierce contrasts of light and shadow, stirring washes of bold colour, a telling use of near silhouette. Petworths grandeur of scale and setting and the ornamental swagger of French Baroque inspire in the artist a new strand of haunting romanticism. Yet it is not just the abundance of rococo artefacts found at Petworth which prompts thoughts of Watteau and Tiepolo but Buchanan’s own inherent sense of theatre.

Some encountering Buchanan’s work for the first time may find it strange that an artist of the late twentieth century should produce imagery more redolent of followers of Rubens than of Rauschenberg, yet there is never a feeling of anachronism associated with Buchanan’s paintings. Rather they take on a valid role in an alternative history of artistic aspiration. Buchanan has created his own world and his own idiom arguing that the past has an inescapable influence on our innermost thoughts.