Long-established art dealers The Fine Art Society are exhibiting an impressive selection of 40 works by British artist David Inshaw. Celebrating the painter's 70th birthday, new pieces were created especially for the occasion – including his recent series of Tree Portraits. Also featured are some of Inshaw's notable paintings from previous decades – the most famous of which is The Badminton Game (1972–73) – on loan from the Tate.
Inshaw's oil paintings are not simply snapshots of events or landscapes – they are autobiographical pieces with great emotional intensity. His use of strong, contrasting colours and striking sunlight, or shadows, capture attention and draw the audience into the artist's world. Inshaw often paints in isolation, focusing on his life and attempting to make sense of it through his work. Past and present relationships are often the subject of his paintings, of which the struggles are laid bare for all to see.
Inshaw spent a long time working on his canvasses, a fact that is apparent from the perfection of detail and immaculate finish of The Badminton Game. A stunning painting, it is best appreciated at close range, because of the painstaking finesse of the brush strokes. There is the sense that time has stood still: the shuttlecock has frozen mid-air, and the scene itself could belong to either of the last two centuries. The imposing red brick house and towering hedges, fighting for space, create an atmosphere of foreboding – a recurrent theme in the artist's work. Erotically-shaped hedges also demonstrate Inshaw's interest in human sexuality, and the awkward humour it evokes.
Inshaw fell in love with the Wiltshire countryside when he moved to Devizes in the 1970s. It was also a productive decade for him, due to his appointment as a Fellow in Creative Art at Trinity College, Cambridge. The Fellowship allowed him to work uninterrupted for two years – henceforth, he turned his attention to painting figures. The setting of these works became rooms, as opposed to his usual outdoor landscapes, and their subjects were often nude women. As in his earlier works, there is a tense atmosphere in the paintings, exacerbated by the viewer's close proximity to the models and their uncompromising stares.
In 1975, Inshaw formed the Brotherhood of Ruralists with other artist friends, including Peter Blake. They shared an enthusiasm for painting nature, despite their differing styles. Inshaw's love of anything "natural" is clearly evident in the majority of his works – often depict rolling hills, coastlines, birds and trees. Thomas Hardy and Edward Elgar inspired this passion – Inshaw made long car journeys to see the places that influenced their work – places that, in turn, influenced him.
In the 1980s there was a change in Inshaw's painting style – his old style had become increasingly restrictive. He shifted away from applying paint in minute detail, to larger and looser brushstrokes. He started working standing up, using his whole body to move the paintbrush. The resulting effect is no less striking, but has a more relaxed feel. Inshaw also found a new freedom when he started using square canvasses in the 1990s – a prominent change visible in the selection of works at The Fine Art Society.
Upon his return to Devizes in 1995, Inshaw would revisit many of his previous landscapes through new paintings. More recently, he has produced works of dramatic cliff scenes at West Bay on Dorset's Jurassic Coast. His fascination with the magical and mysterious is explored in new paintings such as Cerne Abbas Giant III (2011), an ancient chalk figure on a Dorset hillside. These works pose a question about the endurance of humans as fertile, yet mortal beings, at the mercy of the elements. His brooding skies and thunderstorms also house this sense of danger. Conversely his fireworks and bonfires are beacons of light, bringing joy and hope to the world.
It is a shame that a handful of Inshaw's etchings have been displayed on the stairs, in such close proximity to those from a separate Whistler exhibition – sadly they are no match for Whistler. However, this is without doubt an excellent opportunity to see David Inshaw's range of oil paintings from across the decades. His strongest themes – a chaotic love life, emotionally-strewn memories and an overarching admiration of the natural world – are all present here.