Geoffrey Whiting: a potter and a painter

Geoffrey Whiting had an important parallel activity as a watercolour painter, but this is a lesser known area of his art. His great knowledge of the natural world underpinned all his creativity. It was there in the coloration of his pots, and in his particular brush motifs on clay, for example his foliate decoration and what he called his ‘bird table’ design, an abstracted motif of birds feeding. However it found wider expression in his pictures too.

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Estuary. Waterclour. Geoffrey Whiting, undated.

Drawing was an obsession from childhood, but it was no doubt strengthened by the draughtsmanship that came as part of his architectural training at Birmingham School of Architecture, just before World War Two. He continued to paint on war service in India, but his most typical subject matter really began to flourish in the 1950s onwards. His artistic heroes included John Constable and John Sell Cotman, and like them he was drawn principally to the natural world. The landscapes he painted were those of Worcestershire, the Welsh borders and northern England, but most commonly north Norfolk and latterly the estuaries of north Kent. His depictions of Worcestershire often included his beloved elm trees, now mostly gone from the landscape. He was attracted to understated places, to watery windswept regions, and his depictions connected to the economy and outward simplicity of his ceramics, his broad watercolour washes were in some ways an extension of his glazing on pots. His ceramic exhibitions frequently included his paintings.

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Autumn. Watercolour. Geoffrey Whiting, 1985

He, like his wife Anne, was a keen birdwatcher, and in 1948 Geoffrey became a founder-member of the Severn Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust), established at Slimbridge by Sir Peter Scott. The membership was diverse; as well as Scott other founder-members included the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the film producer Sir Michael Balcon, and the painter Edward Seago. In those early days the Trust was a relatively small and intimate affair, and Geoffrey recalled the pleasure of often sharing a bird hide with Scott. When based in Kent, he had a particular fondness for the north Kent marshes bordering the rivers Medway and Swale, often taking his sketchbook, and working his ideas into watercolours that were often a process he said of ‘memoration’, a mixture of memory and the imagination.

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Small watercolour sketch. Geoffrey Whiting, 1985.

David Whiting

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