Artist in focus

Gordon House (1932-2004)

Gordon House was born on the 22nd of June 1932 in Pontardawe, South Wales. Early exposure to art as a young boy inspired House and at the age of 14 he accepted a grant to attend art school. He studied at Luton School of Art, Bedfordshire and St. Albans School of Art, Hertfordshire. House’s contemporaries included Richard Smith and John Plumb with whom he remained close. After finishing art school, House began work as assistant to the ecclesiastical sculptor Theodore Kern. He also spent time at an advertising studio where he honed his burgeoning skills in typography and graphic design.

In the late ‘50s, informed by the new art emerging in America and that of his contemporaries in England, House began to create large-scale abstract works which he was invited to show at Dennis Bowen’s legendary New Vision Centre in Marble Arch.

Richard Smith’ catalogue introduction stated: ‘His paintings are like the momentarily in-focus forms of the daily-recurring landmarks of the Kings Cross-Welwyn Garden City route. The bright white space in which they exist is a non-atmospheric dazzle; the landscape has been burnt out by speed…’.

House was an active participant in the vibrant London art scene of the ‘60s, and in 1960 he exhibited in ‘Situation’ – the key abstract exhibition of the decade held at the RBA Galleries – alongside artists which included Robyn Denny, Bernard and Harold Cohen, Gillian Ayres, John Hoyland, Richard Smith and William Turnbull. These artists were frustrated by the lack of exposure given to large-scale abstract works in commercial galleries so they had organised their own exhibition.

In 1961 House began producing his first prints at the Kelpra Studio, run by Chris and Rose Prater, where he made the earliest fine art screenprint ever to be produced in Britain. Artists such as Paolozzi and Hamilton followed in his footsteps and together they started a printmaking revolution in Britain. They brought screenprinting out of the commercial sphere and into the world of fine art thus securing the reputation of Kelpra in the process. Later, together with Cliff White, House set up the White Ink print studio in London which attracted artists such as R. B. Kitaj, Richard Smith, Joe Tilson, Sidney Nolan, Victor Pasmore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bernard Cohen and Elizabeth Frink.

All forms of printmaking were to remain a key part of House’s oeuvre and in 1981 a retrospective exhibition of his graphic works opened at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, which then moved on to the Brooklyn Museum, New York. These shows were instrumental in bringing House’s prints to the attention of a wider American audience.

House was also involved in the creation of some of the most iconic musical imagery of the twentieth century. He collaborated with Peter Blake on the 1967 Beatles LP ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and the pair joined forces again in the ‘80s on the poster designs for Live Aid. House also worked on the Beatles’ second release ‘The White Album’. Design commissions continued for McCartney on both his solo albums and those of ‘Wings’.

House designed catalogues and publicity for many of the major London galleries of the day, from museums such as the Tate to commercial galleries such as Robert Fraser. He revolutionised the appearance of 20th century gallery graphics and set the benchmark for design now taken for granted as standard in the art world.

House lived and worked in London all his adult life yet he always retained a deep attachment to his native Wales, he wrote: ‘On leaving the valley of my origin there has always been that pull to return’. In 1975 he bought a house in Penrhos on the Welsh borders where he was profoundly inspired by his new surroundings; both the local landscape and the characters he met there found expression in a multitude of paintings and prints, notably ‘The Welsh Portfolio’ of 1984.

House continued to make paintings and prints and exhibiting in shows both in the UK and abroad. He died of a brain tumour in 2004.

A memorial exhibition was held at The Millinery Works, London and his Memoir ‘Tin Pan Valley’ was published that same year by Archive Press, London.

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