I was fond of the painter John Craxton’s early ink drawings, but knew little of his later life and work apart from cover illustrations for Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel books. I had not really understood the long connection between these two men and their love for Greece until Ian Collins’ retrospective exhibition and monograph of Craxton in 2011. It unveiled a remarkable series of luminous paintings, many in tempera, that seemed to distil the essence of Greek landscape (Crete in particular). Their linear form owing much to modernism was also derived from the close study of Byzantine painting, evident in churches across Greece. Craxton was mentored by the Greek painter Nikos Ghika, a lifelong friend to both he and Leigh Fermor. This was explored in ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ at the British Museum in 2018.
I finally read ‘Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese’ while visiting Kardamyli on the Mani peninsula, where I also found the Leigh Fermor house on a low cliff surrounded by olives and cypress trees. While walking in the Vyros Gorge, I was transfixed by a tiny figure leading goats high up in the Taygetus mountains, the scene was straight from Leigh Fermor’s book of 60 years earlier. Partly because of the writing and partly because of the eerie beauty of the place, Mani cast a spell; it got under the skin. I decided to return with a view to paint some of it, or at least try.
In October 2017 I caught a bus with a friend, from Kalamata heading past Kardamyli onto Itilon where began a walk around the southernmost tip of the peninsula, known as Mesa Mani or the Deep Mani.
“Its geographical seclusion, locked away beyond the mountains on the confines of Sparta, and the steepness and aridity of its mountains are the key to the whole thing.” ‘Mani’ PLF p45
My plan was to walk in the footsteps of Leigh Fermor, to look on the places he described and to make some sort of painted reaction to the experience. I took my painting equipment, made pleinair studies en route while struggling with the extra weight in my pack and the relentless heat (although in Yerolimeni the locals were putting on jumpers and thinking about lighting a fire! For them, there was a distinct autumnal chill in the air). The journey on foot of three weeks took us over a mountain, along treacherous cliffs and across plains baked hard by a fierce sun.
On my return, I began to make a number of studio based works in response to the experience. They are an attempt to translate the sensation of being there, the physical harshness of this land; the solid form, the empty space. Its shapes, colours and light. Seas girdled, sun blistered. It is a place apart.
Toby graduated from Falmouth College of Art in 1994 and from post graduate study at the Royal Academy Schools in 1999.
He has exhibited widely, being selected on a number of occasions for the Royal Academy Summer Show, BP Portrait Award (winning the Travel Award in 2006), Holburne Portrait Prize, Discerning Eye, Jerwood Drawing Prize and the New English Art Club.
Toby was elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 2006. He has won the Prince of Wales Drawing Award in 2005 and 2013 and in 2006, the BP Portrait Travel Award at the National Portrait gallery. He worked his way around ‘Wessex’ making portraits of the rural community. This was subsequently exhibited at Dorset County Museum in 2008 along with a number of landscapes. He won the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize for figurative painting in 2009.
Toby has been teaching drawing at the Arts University at Bournemouth (AUB) since 2004 and Heatherleys and the Art Academy from 2018 where he tries to pass on some of the principles he learned from such notable artists as Norman Blamey, Leonard McCoomb and Anthony Eyton.
1996-1999 - Royal Academy Schools London, Post Graduate Diploma in Painting
1991-1994 - Falmouth College of Art and Design, BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art,
1990-1991 - Bournemouth College of Art and Design, Foundation Diploma
2013 - Prince of Wales Drawing Prize (RP) 2009 - Winner of the Lynn Painter Stainer Prize (Worshipful Company of Painter Stainers) 2007 - University of Wales Purchase Prize (Print Originals, Mall Galleries) 2006 - BP Travel Award (National Portrait Gallery) Changing Faces Prize (RP) 2005 - Prince of Wales Drawing Prize (RP)
‘Mani- Painting the Southern Pelopennese’, Amanda Aldous Fine Art Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Show New English Art Club (NEAC)
Royal West of England Academy 'Drawn' Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Show
Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Show
Lynn Painter Stainers Decennial Exhibition, Mall Galleries Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Show ‘Still Alive: The Contemporary Still Life’ Beverley Art Gallery East Riding Yorkshire
‘Small Paintings’ Bohun Gallery, Henley on Thames ‘Contemporary Drawing’ The Arts Stable, Childe Okeford, Dorset Society of Wildlife Artists, Mall Galleries ‘Still Alive: The Contemporary Still Life’ Mall Gallery Winchester RP show ‘Family Familiar
Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Show
AAFineart, Hackwood Arts Festival, Hants Threadneedle Offices annual hang Holburne Portrait Prize, Bath ‘London Views’ Mall galleries ‘Painting the Sea’ Kelly Ross Art Stable, Dorset Royal Academy Summer Show Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Show
Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Show RAC Pall Mall, London
Discerning Eye, Mall galleries 20/21 British Art Fair Royal College Holburne Portrait Prize, Bath
Art Stable, Dorset Bohun Gallery, Henley on Thames
Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize, Painters' Hall, 9, Trinity Lane, London Timeless Bath, Quest Gallery, St James St, Bath Working Artists, Dorset, Poole Lighthouse arts centre, Dorset Remembered Landscape, Long & Ryle, John Islip St, London London Arts Fair, Business Design Centre Islington, Solo show ‘Wessex Land, Wessex People’, Dorset County Museum, Dorset
20/21 Art Fair RCA (represented by Long & Ryle), London Two Portrait Painters, St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Hants Human Form, Atrium Gallery, Dorset
Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy, London
2003 to 2018
Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Mall Galleries, London
Bulldog Trust RP Self Portrait, Temple Place, London Figure This, Mall Galleries, London Past Present, Sesame Gallery, London Morgan Boyce Gallery, Marlborough, Wiltshire On Form, A Gallery, London Print Originals, Mall Galleries, London
Discerning Eye, Mall Galleries, London
BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London
Jerwood Drawing Prize Exhibition Mystery Portrait Postcards, National Portrait Gallery, London Roman Black Gallery, London Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, London Beaux Arts, Bath
New English Art Club, Mall Galleries, London Royal West of England Academy, Bristol