THE ABSTRACT painter Michael Finn, whose outstanding teaching career saw him serve as Principal at Falmouth College of Art and Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, was a modest man who only developed his considerable artistic talents after retirement in 1982. During the last 20 years of his life his minimal canvases and wall-bound wood reliefs conveyed a strong religious conviction which contributed to an ongoing transcendentalism found at the core of much modern painting.
Born in Surrey in 1921, the son of an architect, Finn was educated at Westminster School before studying art at Kingston in the early 1940s. After wartime service in the RAF he entered the Royal College of Art. By 1945 he had started a family, a situation that necessitated a career in art education. He taught for nearly a decade at Somerset College of Art, Taunton, before becoming Principal at Falmouth in 1958.
During the next 14 years a limited output of still-life and landscape painting was sent in to group exhibitions at the Newlyn Art Gallery and the Penwith Society in St Ives. His natural empathy with young artists made him a sympathetic teacher but after his spell as head at Corsham between 1973 and 1982 he returned to Cornwall where at last he devoted his time exclusively to painting.
Despite his strong Roman Catholicism, Finn's painting seemed almost puritanical in its austere reduction of form and colour. The slim vertical, square or rectangular canvases, however, conveyed a sublime sense of landscape space in which a single, dominant and saturated hue assumed a crucial expressive role. The formal influence of American "colour field", "post- painterly" and "minimalist" abstraction was complemented by the spiritual content he shared with the revered Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.
This content was relayed not only through contrasting passages of sombre, luminous or atmospheric colour but also through visible directional brush strokes and modulated paint handling, vehicles with which Finn countered the impersonal symmetry of the overall canvas object. The single lines or bars that traversed Finn's near- monochromatic canvases certainly owed a debt to Newman's famous "zips", pictorial devices that in alternative horizontal or vertical orientations evoked landscape or architectural feelings.
After he settled near St Just in 1982, Finn's simple and streamlined canvases witnessed a "micro-climate" of minute, …