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John Virtue, Norfolk 2, acrylic on canvas, 149.9 x 200.3 cm.. Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

LONDON.- Marlborough Fine Art presents ‘John Virtue: North Sea Paintings’, the first major exhibition by this distinguished artist to open in London in 5 years. In a striking departure from the huge paintings of London which formed the subject matter of his highly acclaimed exhibition at the National Gallery as Associate Artist in 2005, these new paintings take the vast, dark expanse of the North Sea as a central theme.

Throughout his career, Virtue has always painted intensely the areas where he has lived. The move to the empty Norfolk coast at the beginning of 2009, after several momentous years painting the drama and excitement of London’s skylines, has proved incredibly fertile. For the last 18 months he has produced a significant body of work from large canvases to paintings of a few square inches and a group of monotypes.

On the same day every week Virtue takes the same walk along the long finger of Cley beach to Blakeney Point, recording in his sketchbooks his movement through the landscape, the changing atmosphere of the sea and the passage of time. These drawings provide the source material for his paintings.

He describes the experience of painting the North Sea from Blakeney Point as ‘painting nothing, which is both infinite and finite’. The environment lends itself perfectly to his sensibility which is, in the Northern European landscape tradition stretching from Rubens to Constable and Turner, straddling direct observation and subordination to spaces beyond our immediate comprehension. What is remarkable about the Norfolk paintings is how he continues to express these tensions through the contemplation of the endless sea. Painting solely in his distinctive black and white, Virtue refuses to succumb to nothingness and instead generates movement of breaking waves, currents swirling currents and clouds against the wider flat sea and sky.

The paintings' looming shapes and their suggestion of an ambiguous deep space give them a distinctly sublime quality. With these paintings Virtue will inevitably find his place within the history of artists who have been captivated by the action of the sea.

John Virtue was born in Accrington in Lancashire in 1947 and trained at the Slade School of Fine Art. He is widely acclaimed for his monochromatic landscapes. In 1971 he moved to Green Haworth, a small village on the edge of the Pennine moorland and concentrated single-mindedly on painting this location. He worked as a postman for 7 years from 1978-85, deliberately removing himself from contact with the art world, before devoting himself full-time to painting. He is an honorary fellow of Yale University and from 2003-2005 was the sixth Associate Artist at the National gallery in London. He has lived and worked variously in North East Lancashire, Devon, London and Italy and for the past eighteen months he has been based near the sea in North Norfolk. He has shown in galleries worldwide and his work can be found in major public and private collections in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia.

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John Virtue, Norfolk No. 4. Acrylic, black ink and shellac on linen, 2009, 75.6 x 149.9 cm.  Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

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John Virtue, Norfolk No. 110. acrylic, black ink and shellac on linen, 2010, 40 x 40 cm.  Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

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John Virtue, Norfolk No. 116. Acrylic, black ink and shellac on canvas, 2010, 29.8 x 29.8 cm.  Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

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John Virtue, Norfolk No. 6. Acrylic, black ink and shellac on canvas, 2009, 96.5 x 96.5 cm. Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

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John Virtue, Norfolk No. 1. Acrylic, black ink and shellac on canvas, 2009, 152.4 x 310 cm. .  Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

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John Virtue, Norfolk No. 14. Acrylic, black ink and shellac on canvas, 2009, 190.5 x 190.5 . Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

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John Virtue, Norfolk No. 63 . Acrylic, black ink and shellac on canvas, 2010, 50.2 x 50.2 cm. Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

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John Virtue, Norfolk No. 89. Acrylic, black ink and shellac on canvas, 2010, 69.9 x 100 cm.  Photo: Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.