Never standing still: the painting of James Hart Dyke

Always remember, sir, that light and shadow never stand still…in your skies… always aim at brightness…even in the darkest effects…your darks should look like the darks of silver, not of lead or of slate

This is the famous advice that Benjamin West, then in his sixties, gave to the young John Constable.

I’m not a painter, but it must figure in the top five nuggets of painterly wisdom, and there’s an extraordinary pleasure from seeing it well done.


London Fields, Hackney 2012 (c) James Hart Dyke

Hart Dyke takes to this naturally. Whether painting landscapes or narrative – a genre he revived with his MI6 paintings – he is a precise observer of light, so precise that he can convey time, and that physical emotion we call atmosphere.

London Fields, Hackney 2012 is so atmospheric it’s breathable.  I don’t know London Fields, but it feels like I do. South London had the same parks, and the same Agfa-coloured evenings in Summer; when Peckham Road looked magical where it melted away into a City the same pink as the light on that gable to the right. False memory for a place you haven’t been isn’t usually a test of high art; but perhaps it should be. We don’t know what this view means to the painter. We don’t need to. He conjures the feeling of the place so clearly that it rings true and trips nostalgic bells. Waiting for a 36 into T0wn on a Saturday night. Watching a last wicket stand, the very best part of very long cricket matches growing up round the boundary in the 70s.

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