In May 1960, Paul Millichip wrote to Ruth Borchard, from London NW6. ‘I am sending you… the self portrait which you asked me to paint, for £20, when I addressed the Redhill Art Society on the 4th March.’
This 1960 portrait is a record of the artist – who was born in Harrow, Middlesex in 1929 – aged around thirty-one. The chunkily impastoed, predominantly white palette exudes, curiously, a delicate, translucent air, like watercolour. The face itself appears on the point of dissolution.
Nevertheless, though the picture’s hues appear both reticent and fluid, there is a sharp clarity here both in the way they are applied (adeptly accentuated where it matters – around the nostrils, mouth, jawline and eyes, for example) and in the firm contouring of features. The paintings’s unaffected naturalness is heightened by the ‘natural’ attendant colours – redolent of earth, sand and vegetation – washing over chalky white, the background to it all.
In 1957, at Gallery One in London, Millichip showed paintings of spiky-limbed human figures abstracted against blocks of near-white paint. His medium then was mostly oil paint with sand on board. In 2001, Millichip recalled Victor Musgrave, Director of Gallery One, ploughing ‘a rather lonely furrow, both as a dealer and gallery owner during the 50s and the early 60s… he just about made ends meet and showed the most avant-garde work in the U.K…. was the first to show Yves Klein, Bridget Riley, Enrico Baj, Francis Souza, and many others.’
In 1947, Millichip enlisted with the R.A.F. for his National Service, and studied at Leeds College of Art from 1948-50. After falling ill and ‘a spell of nearly two years in a Yorkshire sanatorium’ (a period which at the time seemed a cruel check to his career but which he later looked back on as allowing him a valuable period of withdrawal and contemplation), he studied at Brighton College of Art from 1952-4. It was at Brighton that his subject matter of figures against vast expanses of beach (mediated by piers or breakwaters) began to figure as subject matter. In his current work, he says, ‘my main concern is with expressing ideas through pictorial dynamics, with figures in rooms and landscapes as two main themes’.