Messum’s director Andrea Gates observes: Michael Upton marked himself out as the quintessential young British artist long before this description became a mere commercial acronym. One of the first truly conceptual artists to emerge from the RCA and the RA Schools during the 1960s, he was first known for both his performance work and his small, boldly composed gouaches.
Upton approached his subject matter not as narrative elements, but rather as a means of communicating the progressive, transformative power of light over a period of time.
His use of photocopied images from Picture Post, and his tonal, earthen colours recall the how time, air and light exposure effect colour and resolution in newsprint and colloidal film stock.
Film remained a constant influence on his work (he particularly admired the work of Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders), but his muted palettes and architectonic compositions also evoke Sickert’s Camden Town, a reference that took on a whole new aspect during the Thatcher years when a strong thread of social commentary emerged in his work.
In his last decades, pure colour entered Upton’s work when he moved to Cornwall. Finally, between 1990 and 1996, Upton painted London subjects and views of Notting Hill, Portobello Road and suburban rooftops and gardens.
Upton’s work can now be found in important public and private collections throughout Britain and the United States. But perhaps more importantly, these works are still available to serious collectors of modern British art.
His small, refined studies of time and place illustrate a bridge between the Sickertian poetry of everyday life and the often acerbic challenges to this life posed by artists such as Richard Hamilton and Patrick Caulfield (who knew and admired Upton’s work).
As such, Upton’s paintings are not only covetable in their own right, but would enhance any collector’s enjoyment and understanding of modern and contemporary British painting.