Hugh Gerard Byers – Figure by a River (1990 – 2000)

It feels spooky – it feels strange.

Whenever I see this painting I feel compelled to stop and look, and immediately I feel a sense of strangeness.

There is one figure in the painting.  Only one.  No sign of anybody else; no lights in the windows; no movement on the river; no living thing at all apart from the lone man.

He’s surrounded by a white outline.  An aura?  A protection?  A barrier?  Is he an outcast?  Does he feel isolated and lonely?  Or perhaps he’s happy to have the town to himself and is enjoying having the space.

The dark sky with the moon – or is it the sun with dark clouds?  Is it night or day?  And is the sky threatening doom, or is it peaceful and calming?  Is it a weight hanging over the man – or is his mind having a dark vision?

Then there are the houses.  They remind me of the colourful houses in parts of Bristol – Redcliffe Parade for example – you’ll have better ideas.  As I continue looking, I see that the roofs of the houses also have a white outline.  Like the man’s outline.  I have the same questions for the houses.

When you stand in front of the painting – it’s in the Friends’ Gallery – you can see how thick the paint is.  It’s almost sculpture – something that doesn’t come across in a paper copy.  The thick paint makes the whole thing feel more intense.

So many questions.

John Beard

To see more artworks from The Wilson collection go to the Art UK website (click here) or The Wilson’s website (click here).