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JOHN SPEIRS The Pillow Books Revisited

I was born in Cape Town with a paintbrush in one hand and a tube of oil paint in the other. Throughout my formative years in South Africa, I was lauded as a prodigy and greatly indulged by leading artists – Irma Stern, Maggie Laubser and Eleanor White. My ego soared. At the Michaelis School of Art, I was too hot to handle and was shipped off to The Slade with a hefty bursary in my pocket. The Slade was my perfect catalyst. Colour, flashy paintwork and exuberant draughtsmanship – often frowned upon by the establishment – brought me to the attention of Larry Rivers, Oskar Kokoschka and others who recognised my hedonistic spirit. But having married I had to think of making a living.

Front Cover Detail: Over the Roads of Dreams

After a whirlwind trip to New York for British Fashion week with Bill Gibb and Kate Franklin, the world of advertising fashion and publicity beckoned. This coincided with the need to support a family and a dangerous appetite for collecting paintings. I enjoyed years of restraint in advertising, packaging, fashion, publishing in London Paris and New York. But the love of paint, deep in my soul, had to burst out. After a long sabbatical I took up the oil paint, the brush and a heady lungful of turps and started to paint again with a passion I had never known before. I was awoken to the possibilities open to me by a visit to Collioure in the south of France, and my creative urges came flooding back. Mad landscapes followed before the call of my youth brought me back to images of Africa. My head became filled. African colour whilst African music assaulted my senses. My brushes have never since been still and lately I have become besotted by Japanese prints – particularly the erotic ones. The latest paintings are the result.

Sudden Flash of Silk and Skin Oil on Canvas 120x120cm

Fallen Wisteria Blossom Oil on Canvas 120x120cm

The Pillow Book Shunga, Japanese woodblock prints, often produced in albums known as Pillow Books are vibrant and explicit depictions of sexual couplings, designed as thrilling entertainments full of unexpected richness and variety. This widely circulated erotic imagery, far from being a hidden, separate genre, often formed the largest part of an artist’s output. Virtually all the most important artists of the do period – Utamaro, Hokusai, Harunobi and other made vigorous contributions to the form. The Pillow Books have secretly inspired the Impressionist and artists up to the present day.

Detail: A Lotus Blooms

Sheets of flame cascade Oil on Canvas 100x100cm

My Heart Burns Up Oil on Canvas 60x80cm

Slow Exploration Oil on Canvas 60x80cm

Not Thinking of What Comes After Oil on Canvas 100x100cm

Arms, Fast as Lightening Oil on Canvas 100x100cm

Taut and Trembling Oil on Board 40x50cm

EXHIBITIONS 2010 Conversations with the Sea, Hayhill Gallery 2009 African Grafitti Hayhill Gallery 2009 African Women Hayhill Gallery 2008 Faces of Africa Hayhill Gallery 2004 The Biblical Art Museum, Dallas 2001 – 2003 The Portrait Society at The Mall Galleries 2002 The Fine Art Society 2001 The Fine Art Society Listed in British Artists since 1945 by David Buckman

Detail: Interrupting the firefly’s dream

Crimson and Fragrant Oil on Canvas 60x80cm

5a Cork St., London W1S 3NY 020.7439.1001

John Speirs  

Selected works