Richard Twose in his studio in Bath

about the artist

Edward Lucie-Smith

Art critic, writer and broadcaster February 2017

Richard Twose is playful. This is not a description that can very easily be applied to contemporary practitioners of painting. It is more obviously apt for artists who currently work in other disciplines – performance and installation, for example. Very often, when I am confronted with an ambitious installation in some prestigious setting – a major museum such as Tate Modern - I find myself murmuring under my breath: “Yes, this is really an enormous playpen for not-quite grown ups – Donald Trump might enjoy romping in it with President Putin.”

Twose doesn’t do playpens. What he does are paintings that are in the best sense slippery. They change as you look at them. And their possible meanings change too.

Partly this is a matter of technique. Twose is a master of what used to be called, in the days when the masters of painting were still the Old Masters, the non finito. What this phrase implied was not that the work of art had for some external reason been left incomplete, but that it had been carried only to a point where the spectator had something to fill in for himself, because this incompleteness created a more dynamic relationship between the person who looked and what was being shown to him.

That is very much the case with the series of paintings presented here – technically they are masterly examples of the ‘just enough’.

The paintings are often slippery in other ways as well. This is strikingly the case in those with titles that refer to Greek mythology, and also to Homer. These texts provided basic source material for generations of painters in the past. It is amusing to find them being wittily re-used here. Zeus, Odysseus, Persephone, Sisyphus are all of them alive and well in the new context provided.

Twose is keenly aware of the metaphorical life of objects, as opposed to their actual physical presence. In a recent statement he says:

“An apple, a bull, objects falling, can all be read as metaphors but will have different meanings depending on each viewer’s cultural frame of reference (this includes political associations – the water and hands of hands and books paintings for example). Magpie-like tough, I also happily steal from Greek myths and British folklore, quantum physics and my personal history.”

One of the main themes of this group of works – one of the central metaphors - is the idea of instability. The figures shown, often clearly intended to represent the artist, are flying or falling. Horses, too, are given a major role in this unstable cosmos, as are birds. In a painting entitled The Sea Horse a male figure, stripped to the waist and clutching two fish, one in each hand, stands unsteadily on the back of a white horse. The horse seems quiet enough, but the man is ready to fall. In Experiments with Gravity a similar figure is in mid air, plunging head down. Around him flies a flock of birds, some of which seem to be attached to his outspread arms by strings, carried downwards with him, vainly struggling to escape.

These are not surrealist paintings. They have none of the verisimo we associate with Magritte and Dali – two very different classical surrealists who nevertheless have that quality in common. The technique tells us that we are looking at a flicker in the continuum, that these are the representation, as near as the painter can get to it, to a series of indrawn breaths. He’s holding each of these breaths, waiting to exhale. When he does, in each case, though maybe by ever so little, the unstable world he shows us will change.

Ben Luke,

Art Critic, Evening Standard, June 2014

“... But best of all is the second-prize work, Richard Twose’s painting of Jean Woods, an elegant fashion model from Bath, interrupted by elements of colourful abstraction. It reminds me of the painter Howard Hodgkin’s description of Degas’s great portrait of Helene Rouart in the National Gallery - that it has that “glancing, slightly dematerialised quality that one does actually see in reality” The poetic elusiveness of Twose’s portrait is otherwise largely absent in this show."

richard twose biography

Richard Twose was born in Devon in 1963. He studied 3D Design at the University of Creative Arts, Farnham from 1986 to 1989. After graduating he based himself in London and became a jewellery designer. For the next 13 years Richard sold his collections worldwide to stores such as Barneys in New York, Harrods and Harvey Nichols. He also designed bespoke collections for Ally Capellino, Margaret Howell and Paul Smith as well as designing one-off pieces for clients including Sting, Joan Collins, Theo Fennell and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones.

During this period Richard was a visiting lecturer at the University of Brighton and Camberwell Art College, However in 2000, looking for new challenges, Richard decided to close his jewellery business and moved to a village south of Bath. Whilst teaching art and history of art at a sixth form college in Bristol he began to paint portraits.

From 2009 his work was exhibited at galleries in Bristol and Bath. In 2011 he won the Victoria Prize at Bath’s Victoria Gallery and was invited to become a member of the Bath Society of Artists.

In 2014 Richard was awarded second prize at the BP Portrait Award in the National Portrait Gallery. Ben Luke in the London Evening Standard described Richard’s painting as having an elusive, poetic quality.

Since winning the award Richard has been interviewed by the critic Edward Lucie-Smith and was chosen by Jonathan Yeo to feature in a CNN Arts documentary “Ones to Watch”. Richard’s painting of Jean Woods was exhibited from June to September at the National Portrait Gallery and then in two other Art Institutions - the Royal Scottish Academy and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

In 2015 he appeared in a film that accompanied the National Gallery and the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum’s major exhibition ‘Rembrandt, the Late Works’ where he demonstrated Rembrandt’s painting techniques. In 2018 this series was broadcast on ITV under the title 'Great Art'. Available on the ITV Hub.

In autumn 2015 Richard was NOA Artist in Residence at the Royal College of Art. He began painting full time in his studio in a remote barn in Somerset. Portrait commissions in 2015 included Alice Prochaska, Principal of Somerville College, Oxford and Viscountess Rosie Grimston; the latest in an unbroken collection of family portraits that goes back to 1452.

In 2016 Richard spent time with Gifford's Circus drawing circus performers during rehearsals, he went on to work closely with a group of acrobatic from CircoMedia, Bristol and observed and drew dancers during rehearsals for The Odyssey - Mark Bruce Contemporary Dance Company.

In 2017 Richard's portrait of Ken Loach was selected for the BP Portrait Award and he was also commissioned by Oxford University to paint Ken Loach. This portrait was exhibited in the Bodleian Library and will hang permanently in the Examinations Halls. Richard also exhibited at Catto Gallery, London - Solo Exhibition A Flicker In The Continuum and the catalogue introduction was written by Edward Lucie Smith.

Richard is currently Artist In Residence at Elisabeth Frink's studio at Woolland House, Dorset.