Ruth Borchard wrote that she met Anthony Eyton at a private view of a London Group exhibition, and requested he paint a self-portrait for her (apparently for twenty guineas).
Eyton was born in Teddington, Middlesex in 1923. His self-portrait was painted between June 1964 and late February 1965; he would then have been forty-one. With his left hand raised towards a canvas placed on the right edge of this picture, the artist is absorbed in the act of painting himself. The urgent singularity of the creative act is demonstrated by the painting of his left arm in especially bold black tones (tinged white at the top), by the way his fingers (and perhaps the brush itself) are depicted with an expressionist, kinetic flourish so as to appear dynamically moving.
In contrast to his swiftly moving left arm, Eyton’s stocky-seeming body appears monumentally still, rooted to the spot, yet even this is characterstically conjured up by what he has called ‘a vivid impressionism… giving solidity of form to the ephemeral’. His bearded face has a tenderly grave look of measured attentiveness, as his eyes (the left painted opaque, his right seen to be incisively searching out its reflection) carefully weigh up his own self-image. His introspectiveness does not preclude a sense of childlike freshness.
The setting is bare: a studio room and a four-paned window looking out on an abstracted view of what appears to be a garden with trees and, maybe, water suggested by some blue strokes in the bottom left hand corner. He appears to be wearing a sweater, shirt and tie but his overall appearance and demeanour possess a timeless quality.
The picture’s measured yet intuitive tones evoke the influence of William Coldstream, a teacher of his at Camberwell School of Arts from 1947-50. Eyton has said: ‘We were… taught the discipline of how to give some certainty to looking… a certainty through measuring.’
It took Eyton a number of years to ‘throw over’ the constraints of a Camberwell training. A visit to Greece in 1955 endowed his palette with a new dimension, that of dazzling light. Seeing Abstract Expressionist paintings in New York c.1970 seemed to ‘open me up to a much wider, more fluid approach.’ Anthony Green has written that Eyton ‘always gives the impression of being able to draw at the speed of thought – be it beach, plant, bricks or flesh’