(British, born 1927)
Derrick Greaves is one of the most eminent British painters and is extensively represented in museum and public collections. He initially gained acclaim in the 1950s, when he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale along with the other ‘Kitchen-Sink’ painters: Bratby, Middleditch and Smith. However, his work swiftly developed into a more heraldic style that paralleled 1960s Pop Art.
In the 1970s, having pared down his vocabulary, Greaves set about enriching his imagery. The iconographic complexity increased in two new ways: first, through the incorporation of words and then through the fortuitous adoption of collage, not just in works on paper, but in large-scale canvases.
Discussing his work during this period, Greaves stated: “Each painting has a particular logic or lyricism which declares itself during the process of painting only gradually. It is so easy to damage and thus lose the life or heart of the image by misunderstanding this slowly unmasking and uncompromising logic – which may be/is peculiar and particular to the image.” Restructuring his language allowed Greaves to incorporate words in order to introduce a narrative element into strongly formal compositions. At a time when even figurative artists adopted a Modernist rhetoric which rejected narrative or storytelling – most famously and articulately in the interviews given by Francis Bacon – Greaves’s sardonic response was to introduce actual words and narratives to accompany highly pared-down images. Greaves had already written narratives in his notebooks and in several paintings of the 1970s and 1980s he incorporated pre-existing words, phrases, sentences and even stories.