Frank Phelan is a rare artist, conjuring up light and space from thin air. It’s like going into a darkened room and throwing open the French windows to let the spring sunshine pour in. His abstracts also have a teasing quality – is that a bird’s head or is it part of the Cornish coastline? Is that a face? Is that Venice? That is definitely a saxaphone – the title Tenor Sax gives that one away. He draws his inspiration from the Cornwall he knows around St Ives, particularly the old tin mines around Botallack, the Dublin of his youth and London, where he divides his time between there and Cornwall. He is part of that great British tradition of St Ives school of painters, which included Roger Hilton, Patrick Heron, Conor Fallon and Terry Frost, but one of his greatest influences was the sublime work of Peter Lanyon, who used flight to combine landscape, the figure and abstraction. Phelan also introduces architectural elements into his work, but at its centre it is a Celtic heart, beating with a sense of place, history, literature and music. The exhibition at Messum’s is a tribute to the man’s dedication to his art over many years, and his skill in applying paint and use of colour, as well as his ability to convey a mood, a feeling, a thought with very few marks. In one respect the gallery, with its low ceilings, is too small for his works – they need much more air to breathe, somewhere with a little more ceiling height and natural light, like Tate St Ives, perhaps?
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