Alexander Creswell

Painting of the Year 2014 – New Horizons: A Ceiling Painting

After what has been a progressively uncomfortable year, I have both pleasure and relief in revealing a painting which has been the product of much thought, deliberation and soul-searching in the quest for a meaningful direction for my future: I take pleasure because the painting is almost finished, and relief because it seems to have been successful, at least as far as I had intended it to be.

A year ago I had an interesting discussion with a collector in New York who lamented his lack of wall space as hinderance to enlarging his erudite collection. Perhaps cheekily I had suggested that he had unadorned ceilings which could be employed to display works of art in the eighteenth century manner, in keeping with his collection of European paintings of the period. The resulting conversation concluded with a commission for me to undertake such a painting, in watercolour and on a significant scale.  This would be a first, both for watercolour and for contemporary art. It would be new ground for me: I relished the idea and rushed off to Italy to consult the masters of the settecento.

In the first instance this picture – now almost completed – represents a new horizon for me, perversely for the simple reason that it has no horizon. Being a view upwards though an imaginary roof to an infinite sky, it has a perspective which relies on the third dimension of the vertical, a perspective cut free from the merely terrestrial.  Secondly this view has no subject as such, no representation of reality other than the sky and sunlight above an invented architecture which departs from the observance of reality. Thirdly, and importantly for me, this view is not factually representational but borrowed in part from history, then adapted and invented. Fictitious in this architectural tableau is the population of what appear to be ghosts whose only function is to represent those tenets and disciplines of life which we, the viewers, might have taken for granted: faith, toil, sagacity and fecundity – in common parlance: confidence, hard work, knowledge and productivity.

But what is the purpose of this painting, I hear the muttered question tinged with cynicism?  Well, I’ve been loyal to the representational for most of my painting life, faithful to place and light, to truth and to the actuality of the subject. Occasionally however the truth is awkward or uncomfortable. During my career I have painted beauty, elegance and grace in architecture. I have also painted fate as manifest in the destruction and neglect of ruins.  Sometimes the inspiration comes from unlikely quarters: over the past year my path ahead has been at times tangled and obstructed, calling for diversion and courage, flavoured with sadness and reflection – a landscape of Dante as I am reminded. With encouragement I found the leap from the familiar to the unknown in this work to be daunting and yet inspirational. It required courage in the confrontation of possible – or probable – failure. Rather like leaping from a runaway train, escape was the principal motivation behind this painting.

Although not quite finished, today we installed this painting in the ceiling of my studio, in a proper place to test its efficacity before the final details are elaborated in preparation for its dispatch.

Some remarkable things revealed themselves: floating overhead the picture morphed into a completely fresh image, unencumbered by accuracy and correctness. Let me explain: we are accustomed to the terrestrial world with a horizon, we gape up at skyscrapers in Manhattan or peer down into the Grand Canyon, but from the safety of our horizon-based world – terra-firma. Everything is related to the horizon, our level, our balance.  We might look out of the window of an aircraft at 35,000 feet but always with the horizon to give us a fixed point: remove that horizon and we suffer from vertigo, dizziness and disorientation. Looking up at a ceiling painting we can feel the ability to fly into it and soar like a bird, freely but with our feet still firmly on the ground.

Given freedom from our earthbound horizons we loosen our reliance on accuracy and on truth. We can twist and turn to look at this view from varying angles without questioning, simply enjoying the gift of flight, at least momentarily. We are looking at a picture which is not a view in the conventional sense, more of a virtual reality which we can enjoy without cynicism, not requiring the affirmation of being ‘correct’.  As a representational painter I find this departure very exciting.

So what of this image on the ceiling? At worst it’ll be a talking point, a curiosity: maybe it’ll challenge the condemnation of representational art as somehow shallow and passé. Maybe it’ll start a trend. I would hope it might encourage other enlightened patrons to ask me to do more, far larger ceilings to be installed in places where they can be seen by the world.

Under the archway furthest from the sun in the painting, a cartouche bears the following inscription:

“Beviamo profondamente dal pozzo della tradizione e nutriremo l’arte del futuro”
(tr. “We drink from the well of tradition to nourish the art of tomorrow”)

The sentiment is entirely mine and the observant viewer may recognise a veiled reference to Andrea Pozzo whose huge fresco ‘The Apotheosis of S Ignazio’ adorns the nave vault of a church close by the Pantheon in Rome, which provided me with the inspiration and model for this painting, together with the courage even to imagine that I could actually achieve it.

I would be delighted if you forward this to anyone who would value the message or who might simply enjoy the painting.

With best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and many thanks to those who have encouraged me through a difficult year.

Alexander Creswell, Christmas 2014

Fine Art Connoisseur magazine – ‘The Art of Alexander Creswell’

Watercolour and the World: The Art of Alexander Creswell


The British wastercolourist Alexander Creswell (b. 1957) does not permit grass to grow beneath his feet, so this month finds him opening his latest exhibition at New York City’s Forbes Galleries.

A defining feature of Creswell’s art is his lifelong desire to explore the world, which surely began the day he was born in the British embassy at Helsinki, where his father served as ambassador. He grew up shuttling between various capitals and his boarding school in England, Whinchester College, where he discovered his passion for art.[…]


This season Creswell has finally found the perfect space to execute large works. His benefactor, oddly enough, is the once-renowned Brtish academician G.F. Watts (1819 – 1904), who lived and worked in the village of Compton, Surrey, a 30-minute train ride south of London. Following a sensitive renovation and expansion, the Watts Gallery is set to re-open to the public on June 18, filled with the master’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Just across the street is the Great Studio, and this April Creswell became the first painter to use it since Watts’s death in 1904.[…]

Fortunately, American admirers can see nine Creswell works from The Forbes Collection, plus a dozen others, at New York City’s Forbes Galleries between May 6 and September 10 2011.

To read the full Fine Art Connoisseur article: FAC_Creswell_article May 2011

‘Enabling Great Art in Watts’s Great Studio’

‘Arch of Constantine, Rome’ 85″ x 48″, 2006

I have been offered the privilege of working in the hallowed surroundings of George Frederick Watts’s Great Studio, the first artist to do so since Watts’s death in 1904.  Using this important space will provide a long awaited chance to explore my oeuvre on an even larger scale. My largest work to date is 9ft x 5ft; Watts’s Great Studio will give me the freedom to go even bigger, both in size and in intent.

At a time when we are about to bring about a revival in the interest of George Frederic Watts by opening the restored Watts Gallery to the public and showing Watts’s paintings, sculptures and drawings refreshed by loving conservation, Trustees of Watts Gallery are delighted that Watts’s Great Studio, currently leased by Watts Gallery Trust, will be occupied by an artist of international stature, who shares the empathy and ambitions of Watts. The resurgence of Compton as a centre of innovation and creative energy is really taking place and we are honoured and delighted to collaborate with Alexander Creswell on his exciting journey of discovery; ‘Enabling Great Art in Watts’s Great Studio’.

In 2006 Creswell broke all bounds of his medium when he produced a collection of watercolours on a grand scale demonstrating an unrivalled technical skill. In painting these vast works (up to nine feet in length) Creswell was rebelling against the tradition of small scale watercolours. He pushed his medium to new heights of experimentation. When these works were exhibited in New York the results were described as “nothing short of extraordinary”.

Perdita Hunt, Director of Watts Gallery

Cruising across France in the Bentley for the RDW Auto Tour

Article in Boat International, written by Amanda McCracken

Sublime scenery and comfort; cruising across France in the Bentley headed for the Monaco Yacht Show, what could be better than that?


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‘Alexander Creswell chased the fleet of glorious classic yachts at the Pendennis Cup in Falmouth to capture the action at close quarters in chalk and charcoal. He offers his own particular perspective on the racing:’

PENDENNIS CUP 2010 by Alexander Creswell

It’s what we’ve grown to love about Cornwall in August: two days of sea mist, drizzle and sou’westerlies, then reluctant spring sun giving way to resplendent summer for the last days. I was here at the Pendennis Cup for five days of non-stop drawing of beautiful yachts in Falmouth Bay.

The azure Mediterranean and Caribbean are wonderful, of course, but in Cornwall we were to have the broadest variety of conditions and the water was a symphony of greens, greys and blues. I was chasing in a RIB and, whatever the weather, drawing to record the action, the spirit and the sensation of classic yacht racing  – power and grace right up close, hearing the grunting of the easing sheets, the shouts of the crew, the roar of displaced water as they powered though the seas.

Racing started on the first day with a flurry of protest flags as the Big Class jostled across the start line, spars almost touching.  The murky grey gloom was alleviated by Adela’s crew shirts making dots of bright red in the gloom. At the top mark her ‘Big Red’ kite was hoisted for the downwind run and she was soon lost in the mist as Mariette and Mariquita rounded behind.

Skippers and tacticians were on their mettle laying for Gull Rock as the turning mark, a jagged reminder of the hostility of this coast. What a way to begin a regatta!  Adela rounded first in the mist, then the ghostly silhouette of Mariquita appeared, slicing the water in streaks of white and indigo. She broke the eerie silence with cries of heave! and ho! as the sheets were hardened in without the benefit of winches to put her on the windward tack, followed by Mariette and Velacarina.

Danger was not far away and the Sparkman & Stephens ketch Tomahawk had broken her mast at the first mark and was taken for repair into Pendennis Shipyard. She would reappear before the end of the week but for now her classmate Pinuccia, a local classic owned by the Tresanton Hotel,  was on her own.

I had succeeded in making a series of wet, splashy sketches in smudgy charcoal for sky, water and sail alike with white chalk in streaks for the cresting seas and foaming bow-waves. My drawing machine provided me with a ten-metre roll of dry paper, tinted to allow the use of white chalk. So far I had needed only grey.

That evening the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club hosted a barbecue.  Drizzle wrapped itself around the crews, owners and guests, a  cool Cornish welcome from the sky but inside the scene was more colourful, a feast that set the tone for a week of fun and fierce, exciting racing.  (more…)