BOOKS: Portrait of the Artist; John Minton: Dance till the Stars Come Down, by Frances Spalding, Lund Humphries Pounds 35/ Gertrude Stein, A Woman without Qualities, by G F Mitrano, Ashgate, Pounds 49.95. Review by Richard Edmonds

Article excerpt

Byline: by Richard Edmonds

When I first encountered John Minton's work many years ago it was in book form - the artist as illustrator - when books were, in fact, cheaper than they are today.

The book in question was Time Was Away - A Corsican notebook, by Alan Ross, which Minton illustrated with his usual strong line drawings depicting Corsican ports, fisherfolk, and its powerful landscape.

Originally published in 1948, Time Was Away came into my possession many years later when I found it at a bring and buy charity book sale for pounds 1.

Today, the same book has soared up to a couple of hundred pounds.

Minton's life and work (since the two things are often intertwined) encapsulated the elegant nostalgia associated with the revival of romanticism in the early 1940s (Graham Sutherland, Keith Vaughan and John Piper were also moving in the same direction) but Minton was marvellously compelling and his work was something you could never quite forget.

We must always remember with gratitude that these were the men who helped to dispel the gloom which had settled like a grey haze on austerity-ridden post-war Britain.

And Minton was not always concerned with working in the studio on impressive portraits or whatever.

He was just as likely to be designing trade show murals at large post-war exhibitions.

Spalding notes that the shift away from figurative art in favour of abstraction e la Picasso and company demoralised Minton (a brilliant painter whose psyche could easily switch into instability) and thus his sense of direction was weakened compared to, say, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, whose strengths in terms of survival and interpretation were superior to Minton's.

And yet the illustrations shown in this deeply attractive biography show conclusively that Minton's was a rare talent, revealing both his sexual orientations and his quest for a truth in painting that established a vision transmitted through his drawings and paintings.

Minton was homosexual at a time when that particular form of orientation was up for criticism and at risk legally.

The troubled reflections on his private nature through legal repression must be understood, Spalding feels, in order to avoid compromising the truth - the man, after all, is the picture quite as much as the picture is the man. …