Winston Branch: A painter at the crossroads

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Moving from a religious beginning in St. Lucia where he attended a catholic school, then migrating to the UK aged 12 to attend another catholic school and studying art, Winston Branch has had a questing career as an artist sandwiched between the religious imperative of an acolyte boy and the demands of maturity of a sophisticated art world. In the end he chose art, and attended and graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 1970. He was regarded then as the finest pupil of his time and considered “naturally gifted.”

He did not disappoint his benefactors and backers. At 24 he won the prestigious Prix de Rome and worked for a year at The British School in Rome. Branch had a first hand experience of the Renaissance masters and subsequent developments of art movements in Europe. And though he ingested these European masters, he was searching for a form that incorporated and reflected his beginnings in the Caribbean. Though first working in the figurative tradition, he moved to abstracts as he apprehended the world of colour reflected in the cosmos, lightning, volcanoes, tropical storms, and earthquakes.

These themes of life-enfolding dramas and the vision of the forest and its peculiar and complex light and forms, played a major role in unfolding the direction his art would take. Professionally, he has travelled widely across Europe and took up in-residence positions there and in the USA, starting with Fisk University in 1973, Kansas State University and University of California Berkeley. Teaching supplied the avenue of passing on experience to the next generation and being regenerated by new young energies. He was the recipient of a Berliner Kunsler Programme des DAAD in 1976, a Guggenheim fellowship in 1978 and his triangular journeys across Europe, America and the Caribbean, like the slave trade itself, imbued in him vistas of seeing and being. His work was widely exhibited from the east to the west coast and the south of the USA, and is held in notable collections including the Brooklyn Museum, but the British Museum, Le musée de la Légion d’honneur and other national institutions in Brazil, Germany, France, Nigeria, and his native St. Lucia.

Returning from the USA to Britain on a more permanent basis, he has been an avid member of the Chelsea Arts Club for over forty years and considers it his cultural interactive meeting place. During a bout of illness the Arts Club was kind to him, and he is now in a group exhibition at the Guildhall Gallery entitled No Colour Bar, a rather unfortunate title as it does not conjure up the variety and calibre of the Black British artists on show. Branch’s three paintings take strategic pride of place at the entrance of the exhibition. For a partially representative view of the resident Black Brit artists, the show should be visited because it exposes work the general public does not normally encounter and engage.

Winston Branch is an accomplished artist with profound knowledge of the history of art, and his work bridges the gap between all these diverse experiences harmonised in the body of his impressive work.

 

No Colour Bar runs until January 24, 2016. The Guildhall Gallery, Guildhall

Yard, London EC2V 5AE; Tel: 020 7332 3700.

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