The quality of Englishness is what strikes one first about Peter Unsworth’s paintings: dream-like happenings which inhabit the borderlands of memory, between sleeping and waking, of the actual and the imagined.

But to call them narrative pictures or literary expositions in colour would be inappropriate since they are never explicit; figures, anonymous yet unnervingly recognizable, are frozen in some rarified moment of experience, their attitudes hinting at some imminent dynamic that may or may not be revealed.

Unsworth attempts to give visual form to essences about people and places- more readily sensed or felt than actually seen. They are archaeologies of time and place.

At the centre of his paintings there is a sense of the paranormal, threatening – and only tenuously placated by the rituals they call up and the order they instil.’ – Article by Paul Richie, Novelist, 1994

 

The many admirers of Peter Unsworth believe him to be somewhat above the ordinary in his perceptions. His paintings suggest that he is in direct touch with a numinous and timeless realm, by some mysterious affinity he has with eternal moments, silences, reflections, in a higher dimension. Evocations of light appear in his paintings, presences which come alive in the most unexpected places in his scenes, as if light had erupted through the membrane dividing the spiritual from the physical, – Indeed, the physical is betrayed as a mere sham, – He captures the moments when reality is pierced by much deeper truths, as if those truths could no longer be suppressed but must burst through, must proclaim themselves amidst his still figures who drift in a dreaming state, – who stroll or gaze, rapt in contemplation of what is beyond.

As one of his keenest collectors, the actor John Hurt, has said of what it is like to live with an Unsworth painting: “Peter Unsworth makes a room become more than a room, he transforms it into a Universe.” And Peter Unsworth’s Universe is one which mesmerises us with its simplicity, which speaks to us in its silence, which betokens the unutterable even as it raises a finger to its lips. With utmost calmness, the people in Unsworth’s paintings experience the sublime in the midst of normalcy. A stile is perfectly ordinary, but merely leads into the sky; stairs of grass descend into the earth as if they were a regular feature of any golf course; a rope is tied to a stake at the edge of a precipitous cliff, – the most natural unnatural thing in the world. A cow’s reflection appears but there is no cow; a steam train may lie lurking in a railway tunnel, but it refuses to come out and exhales a petulant breath from a tunnel whose face is baked red by an alien sun. And all the while, a magnificent dream has all of Unsworth’s work in its grip – and we are drawn in, in, … until we too dream, until we have gone through, until we have taken that step into the light which will transform us into shining, meditative inhabitants of a world which lies just a little further on than our own imaginings. – Article by Robert Temple

 

Peter Unsworth at East West Gallery

Peter Unsworth burst onto the art scene in the early Sixties, and this new exhibition of recent qork demonstrates that he has not lost his touch. Born in County Durham in 1937, Unsworth stuidied at Middlesborough and St Martin’s School of Art before holding his first one-man show at the Piccadilly Gallery in 1963. Further exhibitions in Italy, Germany and Spain were followed by a move to Ibiza, where he remained for several years before returning to England and settling in Norfolk, where he still lives and works.

Unsworth’s paintings seem to deal with an even about to happen; something just outside the picture frame. Sinister mise-en-scènes, they are painted in a disquietingly simple, pleasantly innocuous style. This is the secret of their success. Unsworth entices his viewers into each picture with a promise of innocence, only to hit them with a more disquieting meaning. His world is a world within a world. Looking into one of these paintings – with their expanses of flat colour and intriguing, enigmatic narrative – can seem at times like standing at the very edge of infinity. – Article from ‘The Week’ 16 May 1998