Whilst sadly, English watercolour artist, Alan Ingham is no longer with us after passing in 2002, his work and collections live on and still enjoy their rightful and justified place, ranked as they are amongst the country’s best contemporary paintings of landscape art. Leaving a timeless legacy of some 1,300 compositions behind him, Ingham’s body of work was much celebrated, both during his life and thereafter, and was adjudged to convey a telling, vivid depiction of seasonal beauty and the diversity of the British landscape. Ingham’s story is a much coloured, well-travelled one, which was portrayed in his finest pieces, and which he felt an ever-growing desire to continue doing so industriously right up to his death over a decade ago; which of course makes his premature demise all the more saddening for his legions of art lovers and collectors.
Reflecting upon his career and Ingham’s journey began back in 1932 in Skipton, a prominent market town situated in Yorkshire, yet which inevitably took in most of the world during his years in the Royal Navy. But long before that, Ingham attended Ermysted Grammar School, yet by just 13 years of age he’d been awarded a scholarship to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. It was at this famous military school that Ingham planted the seeds to his future, and saw his establish the roots to his forecast long and esteemed career in the services. Ingham trained and qualified as a Hydrographical Surveyor within the Navy, and rose through the ranks to become a Lieutenant Commander, and quite literally circumnavigated the globe during his active service days. Indeed, the chief remit of a Hydrographical Surveyor was to map the ocean floors with a fastidious precision, an art (albeit a stringently technical one) that in itself helped paved the way for artistic success in later years.
Ingham retired from the Royal Navy in 1965 whilst still in his thirties, but furthered his career in Hydrography by electing to become a lecturer in the subject at North East London Polytechnic. The next five years or so proved to be an incredibly productive time for Ingham as this coincided with the emergence of the offshore oil and gas industries which put his knowledge and skillset in the spotlight. Although not complaining, this left little time to indulge any extra-curricular interests or to develop any hobbies. Especially in light of Ingham’s surveying expertise being central to him producing two text books to support his students in their coursework, which again took up any spare time he might have otherwise engineered.
In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Ingham’s eventual emergence as a painter began to take shape. Despite harbouring a natural aptitude for art, something which was acknowledged during his schooldays, the opportunity to revisit this professionally unchartered territory had never arisen. Until then. But when Ingham did start committing brush to canvas, events took a sudden change of pace as he found himself showcasing his works at local and regional art events as well as exhibiting at galleries nearby. As a reputation built almost overnight, Ingham was invited to show his compositions at some notable venues, including the Mall Galleries in London and the Granby Gallery up in Derbyshire. His work was very much in demand, which led to the decision being made to publish his original work henceforth as limited edition prints and to engage with other media.
Towards the end of the 1970s, Ingham’s signature watercolours were discovered on the covers of many collections of greetings cards and calendars, after been reproduced on a mass scale as retailers and merchandisers could see the potential appeal to the general public and with these more commercial successes came further demands on Ingham’s time. By 1980, Ingham’s work load meant he had to retire from lecturing and focus all of his attentions on painting instead, and the next few years witnessed the artist settle with his wife, Rose in Gloucestershire and dedicate the next chapter in his life to his art.
Ingham had finally answered a calling that he barely knew he had and something which had well and truly taken a back seat for a large part of his adult life. Yet Ingham wasted no time in making every minute count in his new vocation, planning and enjoying material-gathering trips with an eye to future subject matters alongside of committing himself to concentrated studio times. One of Ingham’s favoured quotes around this time was the old surveyor’s motto; ‘No day too long, no work too arduous’, which was a fundamental belief that Ingham practised as well as preached as he set about creating a (now) back catalogue of original paintings that are said to number 1,300 individual pieces. And many of which are today found in private and corporate collections far and wide.
Ingham drew most of his inspiration, in spite of plotting co-ordinates around the world with the Navy, from the landscapes close to his new home close to Cheltenham. He explains in one of his books on the subject, that although he wouldn’t have swapped his experiences seeing new countries and continents during his time at sea, he was (at that point) happy to put down his roots as a painter where he had. And fervently believed that some of the most majestic, evocative and inspiring scenery and vistas anywhere can often be found not far from your own doorstep. Ingham also conferred that he would require at least another three lifetimes or more to explore and record every bit of the landscapes close to him to portray for the benefit of a wider audience. Ingham felt that only watercolour itself could carry the ideal weight of texture to project such atmospheric landscapes, whilst also painting a more verbal picture of his relationship, as an artist, with the sky; and ultimately how both converged and conspired with one another in his works.
The books in question were ‘Savour the Moment’ and ‘Under a Watercolour Sky’ which was published in 1996, both of which lionised the unique character of Britain and served as testament to his adoration and respect for the great British countryside.