Thames Painting: The Estuary, Michael Andrews
This huge mixed media canvas measuring 220 x 189cm was the last work that Michael Andrews produced whilst undergoing treatment for cancer in 1994. Despite his illness, a scrap of paper dating to the same year urged him to be even freer in his work: ‘Pool Blow drip roller paint spray Trickle/Thrash’.
In the months following his operation, Andrews searched for the perfect setting on the Thames for what would be his final works. On 14th October, Andrews and his wife June travelled to Canvey Island on the Thames estuary in Essex. ‘We sat there on a seat, watching the tide go out and men with shovels and margarine tubs dig up worms’, said June. This was a place where men had dug for hundreds of years. Although Andrews excluded the lugworm diggers from his final work, there is a sense of continuity, presence, and history in this piece – fishermen come and go, and a group of figures from a Victorian photograph, taken to commemorate the centenary of Tower Bridge, are included. The art historian Catherine Lampert astutely described Andrews’ last works as continuing ‘to explore the idea of belonging and spiritual release through the experience of nature.’
The Thames was an important source of inspiration for Andrews, following his return to London in 1992 from Norfolk, where he had spent almost 20 years. Andrews would cross the Thames at Albert Bridge twice a day as part of his commute to his studio, and in his spare time he would undertake more adventurous explorations in wellies on the beach below.
Andrews commenced his artistic career at the Slade School of Fine Art in London where he studied under the artist William Coldstream, and was also tutored by Lucian Freud. Andrews’ contemporaries at the Slade included the artists Craigie Aitchison and Victor Willing – both of whom are represented by works in our collection at Pallant House Gallery. Following his education, Andrews taught at the Slade, and in 1962 he became a member of the London Group; an artists’ collective that was initially founded in 1913 by thirty-two artists including Walter Sickert, Jacob Epstein, Wyndham Lewis, and David Bomberg.