Rocks and sea

John Knapp-Fisher

British ( b.1913 - d.2015 )

Rocks and sea

  • Watercolour
  • Signed lower right

Image size 4.5 inches x 5.1 inches ( 11.5cm x 13cm )
Frame size 12.6 inches x 13.2 inches ( 32cm x 33.5cm )

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Available for sale from Big Sky Fine Art; this original painting by John Knapp-Fisher dating from 1980.
The watercolour is presented and supplied in its original bare wood frame, mounted and behind glass.
The watercolour is signed lower right.
Previously with the Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff.

John Knapp-Fisher was a British landscape painter, whose adopted homeland was Wales. He had a mastery of both oils and watercolours in his landscape and seascape works. He developed a large and loyal following which made him one of Wales’ most popular and well-known artists.

John was born in Kensington, London on 2nd August 1931, the son of Arthur Bedford Knapp-Fisher, Professor of Architecture at London’s Royal College of Art. John’s earliest memories were of drawing and painting alongside his father. John was educated at St. Andrews, Pangbourne and Eastbourne College, Sussex. He then attended the Maidstone College of Art where he studied graphic design. This was followed by two years’ National Service in the Army with the Royal Military Mounted Police. He subsequently worked in exhibition design and later for the theatre as a designer and scenic artist. In these early years, he was influenced by John Piper, Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood. In 1958 and while still based in London, he began to concentrate on painting and exhibiting. He then became the set designer for the Theatre Royal in Margate and later the Castle Theatre in Farnham.

On leaving the theatre Knapp-Fisher took up painting full–time. In 1960 he married the artist Sheila Bassett, and they decided to live on a boat. Over the next five years he worked and exhibited in their floating home while they sailed between the harbours of south-east England. Their two children were born in Ipswich, Buzz in 1960 and Lucinda in 1964. In Suffolk they became friends of the pioneer of self- sufficiency, John Seymour, who was in the process of moving to a smallholding in north Pembrokeshire. They decided to follow, and in 1965 they bought a nearby farm.

Knapp-Fisher was taken with the wet and loneliness of the hills, but the public did not immediately take to his work. Then in 1967 he moved to the St. David’s area, and began working from a converted cowshed/studio in Croesgoch. Things fell into place, and the rest is history! He produced works consistently from then until only shortly before his death almost fifty years later.

In 1968, he built his own small fishing boat Viking and supplemented his income by selling his catch. Soon afterwards he began an unlikely expedition to circumnavigate Wales, setting out from Porthgain and up the Severn and the canals. Nearing home, Viking was wrecked off Aberystwyth and he had to swim ashore!

Knapp-Fisher preferred to paint from notes and drawings in his sketchbooks, rather than from photographs. As a result, his favorite subjects were local to his studio, for example Porthgain Harbour. His paintings have been reproduced on countless postcards and prints. He liked to use a limited palette, seeking what he called “the edge of colour, where the earth colours and touches of primary colour emerge from the darks and where tonal relationships, quality, texture and contrasts are all important”. His subjects were landscapes, seascapes, boats and fish.

Knapp-Fisher claimed that he painted every day. “I tell students to do something every day – even if it’s a quick thumb nail sketch…rather like a dancer has to practice every day, a painter has to oil the hinges by doing idle drawings”.

During his long career, Knapp-Fisher exhibited his paintings in many prominent galleries across Europe and also Africa and North America. His largest exhibition was in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he displayed over 60 paintings. This period of work is particularly interesting with burnt oranges, browns and yellows used to depict the scorched grasslands.

Knapp-Fisher’s marriage to Sheila ended in divorce and he spent his last decades living in Croesgoch with his partner Gillian Pare. He did not particularly care for material things and was always happy to paint, potter about with his boats, and live a modest and self-sufficient lifestyle. He died at Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest on 25th February 2015 age 83. His family said that John’s passion for art never faded, and he had continued to sketch and paint almost to the last.

Over the years, Knapp-Fisher was featured on television and radio and his works was widely reviewed in newspapers and magazines for the Arts. In 1992 he was elected a member of the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art. To mark his 80th birthday in August 2011, Knapp-Fisher was featured on the BBC Radio Wales Arts Show. Always a very practical man, he expressed the view: “You’ve got to be practical as an artist. There’s no point in being airy fairy and artistic, putting a beret on and standing at a rickety easel; you’ve got to be very hands on. As he turned 80 he also held an exhibition of new paintings at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff.

Today his works are highly sought by collectors and are represented in many public and private collections, including HRH The Prince of Wales, the National Museum and Galleries of Wales, National Library of Wales, Swansea University and BBC Wales, Cardiff.

This original watercolour by the Welsh master artist depicts a wild and wet seascape. In the foreground is the rich green of tough grassland, then brown scrubland, and a simple wire fence, with the fence posts leaning in the wind. Above that, is the sea, aqua-blue, almost white with waves and foam, breaking around large solid rocks that protrude from the waters. The sea then rises to meet the heavy skies at the pale horizon, to complete this little slice of atmosphere. We can almost smell the salt and feel the wind on our face!