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good for his 64 years – and our discussion shows that nearly forty years as a working artist has not dimmed his passion for painting, in fact quite the opposite. “I’m still driven by the same


John Gillo S


ipping a coffee in his small gallery in the Old Market in Dartmouth, John Gillo looks


Right: John Gillo


Left & above: John’s more traditional watercolour paintings.


Below: New abstact work.


things,” he says. “I look for the perfect composition, a good narrative behind a picture and something which connects emotionally. If you don’t think philosophically about art it becomes meaningless.” John’s art has become synonymous with Dartmouth over the last few decades: his watercolours sum up for many their happy memories of the town in the summer: boats idly coasting up the river, the town’s famous vistas at Bayards Cove and the Embankment, or even simple scenes of the winding, step-filled streets, overlooked by houses and boxes of blooming flowers.


But this romantic vision was more or less an accident, John believes. “I didn’t want to go out painting in the rain!” he laughs, “but I’m happy people have enjoyed them and if they connected with the pictures in that way, that’s brilliant. A picture is not just paint on a canvas, it’s a collection of ideas – we all paint or draw an exaggeration of what we see.” John has always been good at art.


From his early years growing up in Putney after the war he says he has never considered anything else as a living. “I always loved art and drawing,” he said. “I was too stupid to do anything else.”


But unusually for a man famous for


his watercolours, his first passion was for abstract art.


“I studied the work of Paul Klee, a Swiss painter who used colour in a way I found fascinating,” he said. “I still always try to carry one of his books with me wherever I go. I created pictures that were blocks of colour arranged in


pleasing ways. But back then you simply couldn’t make a living as an abstract artist. So I taught myself how to paint figuratively.” John had a talent for sketching from


his days with a notebook and pen, so he went about applying those skills to learn how to paint watercolours. “My first few were awful,” he laughs, “but after a while they got better and I started to sell them.” Coming to Dartmouth in the 1970s,


after graduating and teaching at the University of Brighton, John established a connection to another Dartmouth- based artist: Andras Kaldor. “We held a joint exhibition upstairs at the Harbour Bookshop,” he said. “We got on well and it went from there. I opened a gallery in the centre building in the Old Market in 1976, Simon Drew came to the town in 1980 and we started to do exhibitions with him too. Paul Riley started working with us on exhibitions in 1981 and finally John Donaldson joined us as well.


“I try and make sure that my art is as accessible as possible – in its nature and its price too.”


“We weren’t working together on


art – we were all quite well established in ourselves and our styles by then – but we all got on and we had fun together, going out and holding exhibitions.” The band of artists – who became


known as the ‘Dartmouth Group’ – shared not a style but a philosophy of art: that it should be accessible.


An original Dartmouth artist


Above: : ‘The Quay’, Dartmouth “We thought that art should be for


everyone,” said John. “Which is what I have always believed and I still believe it today. I try and make sure that my art is as accessible as possible – in its nature and its price too. That’s why I’ve always done prints and cards as well. “I try to paint subjects which have a


universal quality to them – so even as I change the style in which I work I think


65


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