Climb Out, 1964

by Peter Lanyon

DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 48.0 x 72.0 in./122.0 x 183.0 cm
SIGNATURE:Signed , titled and dated on the reverse
MEDIUM: Oil, polystyrene and wood on canvas

In the year that Lanyon painted Climb Out, he wrote: ‘I believe that landscape, the outside world of things and events larger than ourselves is the proper place to find our deepest meanings… I want to make the point that landscape painting is not a provincial activity as it is thought by many to be in the United States, but a true ambition like the mountaineer who cannot see the clouds without feeling the lift inside them. These things take us in to places where our trial with forces greater than ourselves, where skill and training and courage combine to make us transcend our ordinary lives’ (The Artist from ‘Some Aspects in Modern British Painting: An Artist’s Point of View’, lecture for the British Council in Czechoslovakia, 27th January 1964). This is the perfect statement of his aims and ambitions for the gliding paintings.

Catalogue No: 5493 Categories: ,

Climb Out is a key example from the series of works by Lanyon known as ‘the gliding paintings’, recently given their long-deserved due at the Courtauld Institute’s critically acclaimed exhibition, Soaring Flight. Painted from 1959 until the artist’s untimely death in 1964 (following a gliding accident), these works channel Lanyon’s experience of taking to the skies from the tiny Perranporth airstrip, perched on a cliff-top on the exposed northern coast of the Penwith peninsular. In the five years that Lanyon flew gliders, he logged some 385 flights – or 57 hours in the air, 46 of those solo. This is not a vast amount by the standards of committed glider pilots, but it was still an impressive amount of ‘studio time’ spent encompassed by the elemental forces that he had sought to understand and represent in his painting from the early 1950s.

Lanyon had always wanted to paint the experience of the world around him, seen from above and below, in the mind’s eye, across time and place: ‘The thing that I’m interested in… is that there’s a place or a hill or a rock, or something like that, the thing that I have experienced that I am able to make into something new which is an equivalent of that…In the end the whole picture has to be that. It hasn’t to represent it, I don’t mean photographic representation… it has to be so charged with that experience that it is, the whole self: it will give back that experience to somebody else’ (The Artist, interviewed (along with Alan Davie and William Scott) by David Sylvester, for the BBC, 19th June 1950, Tate Archive (TAV 214AB)).

For him, it was ‘impossible… to make a painting which has no reference to the very powerful environment in which I live… I’m not interested in standing still in one position. And I would use anything – bicycles, cars or aeroplanes – to explore my relationship to the environment’ (British Council recorded talk, 1963, Tate Archive, TAV 526AC). In the years prior to 1959, a title such as ‘Climb Out’ would have referenced something earth-bound, such as Cornwall’s long tradition of mining, whose physical impact on the landscape Lanyon had charted in his earliest mature works. However, with the gliding paintings many of the titles refer to specific flying manoeuvres, albeit then made metaphor when allied to the powerful energy of the image: here the title and the strong red diagonal stands for a sharp elevation, at take-off (always nerve-wracking for a glider pilot) or when the glider hits a thermal. This red flash cuts across the black and white circle that maps (basically, succinctly) the path of a flight (as he had in one of the earliest gliding paintings, Solo Flight), on which Lanyon has placed two markers (circle and triangle), so crucial in navigation in a craft with no GPS and just a paper map. The left hand quadrant is full of sky, but banded too with green for fields and an ochre strip of beach; to the right, the land continues, scored and pitted, although in the sumptuous pinks and oranges Lanyon frees himself into the realm of pure abstraction.


The Estate of the Artist;

Gimpel Fils, London;

Private Collection, United Kingdom

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Birmingham, Ikon Galllery, Peter Lanyon: Later Work, 16th September – 14th October 1978, cat. no.42;

London, Gimpel Fils, Peter Lanyon – The Final Years 1962-64, 11th February – 28th March 1998, cat. no.13;

London, Gimpel Fils, Peter Lanyon, 16th January – 21st February 2009, un-numbered exhibition.


Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon – His Painting, Aidan Ellis Publishing Ltd, England, 1971, cat. no.208;

Andrew Lanyon, Peter Lanyon 1918-1964, Penzance, 1990, illustrated p.268;

Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon: Modernism and the Land, London 2006, p.199, illustrated p.109.

This work will feature in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the oil paintings and three-dimensional works, to be published by Modern Art Press in association with Yale University Press written by Martin Lanyon and Toby Treves.


Peter Lanyon was a British artist who created abstracted landscapes of the Cornish countryside. Melding multiple styles, his influences included Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field painting, and the organic abstractions of Ben Nicholson. “It is impossible for me to make a painting which has no reference to the powerful environment in which I live,” the artist said. Born on February 8, 1918 in St. Ives, United Kingdom, Lanyon began receiving private art lessons at an early age before going on to study at the Euston Road School and Penzance School of Art. In 1939, after finishing his studies, he developed friendships with artists who had moved to Cornwall during World War II, including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. After his first New York solo exhibition in 1957, his work underwent a change, partly caused by his exposure to the works of Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell. It was these two artists that encouraged Lanyon to create looser and more abstract compositions. Interestingly, Lanyon’s paintings were directly related to his passion for hang-gliding. The views he saw while hovering above the landscape, influenced the linear forms and patterns found in his paintings. Tragically, Lanyon died after a hang-gliding accident on August 31, 1964 in Taunton, United Kingdom. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.


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