It’s a testimony to my own ignorance that I hadn’t heard of Bert Irvin until, some dozen or more years ago, already in the later years of his life, he was a guest on Michael Berkeley’s Private Passions on Radio 3. What struck me immediately was the generous and cant-free way in which he talked about art, his unforced and clearly genuine enthusiasm for both painting and music, Shostakovich and Thelonious Monk as much an inspiration as Pollock and deKooning.
It so happened that not long after hearing the programme I mentioned Irvin to the writer and sometime artist Trevor Preston, who, it turned out, not only knew him quite well but could furnish me with an address. I duly contacted Irvin, and, as a result, was invited to the opening of an exhibition of new work at his London gallery, Gimpel Fils, where we met and talked. Thereafter, we remained in touch, largely by virtue of an exchange of cards at Christmas – his, each year, a stunning print in his recognisably vibrant style.
Trained at Northampton School of Art and at Goldsmiths in south-east London, where he was later to teach, Irvin was an RAF navigator during WW2, the experience of flying one he shared with the Cornish artist Peter Lanyon. to whose work he felt close, and which may well have influenced – as it did Lanyon – the form and shape of his earlier abstract paintings.
Although he had his first solo exhibitions in 1960, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Irvin’s work began to be more widely known and displayed, corresponding with a move from painting in oils to acrylics and the bolder and more vibrant use of colour that distinguished his later style; this period also saw the beginning of his relationship as a screenprinter with the Advanced Graphics studio in London which endured in the most positive manner until his death. A true formidable artist and a lovely man, it it was an honour for me to have known him to the small degree that I did.