Andrew Lanyon 

Von Ribbentrop in St Ives: Art and War in the Last Resort 

5 June to 26 July 2011

Over three years artist, writer and filmmaker Andrew Lanyon created a densely rich and elaborate narrative project in both book and exhibition form. Comprising paintings, drawings, mechanical vignettes, sculptures, artefacts and texts, this gesamtkunstwerk proposes an alternative reading of events based on the historical facts, episodes and encounters that stem from German Ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop’s brief visit to Cornwall in 1937. Throughout Lanyon’s multi-layered presentation, idiosyncratic parallels are drawn between the threatened Nazi invasion of Cornwall and the encroaching dominance of abstraction over realism in modernist art.

At the core of the project is a belief that by bringing together two seemingly contrasting ideas or forces – the creative and destructive impulses that are made manifest in art and war – new and what he terms ‘vivid’ concepts are unleashed. For Lanyon, Modernism – as explored in the work of recent Cornwall arrivals like Nicholson, Hepworth and Gabo – and its attack on realist traditions as explored by the artists and followers of the Newlyn School was perhaps born out of necessity as much as any aesthetic or intellectual debate. 

Lanyon began this major project in 2007 and his starting point was the alleged appearance in the Invasion Handbook (published Berlin 1941) of postcards of Cornwall, which he surmises, may have been collected by von Ribbentrop during his stay. Combining satire with deadly conviction, Lanyon notes ‘in wartime, ordinary things […] were suspected of being used to aid predators. Even rock-solid Cornish hedges could no longer be trusted…’ Taking this suspicion to its most absurdly plausible conclusion, abstraction, it would seem, could confuse the enemy and protect the Cornish coast. After all, ‘what U-boat commander in his right mind would, while approaching that deadly set of rocks, The Manacles, have allowed himself to be guided by an Alfred Wallis?’

An eponymously titled book accompanies the exhibition. Published by Kestle Barton, the book contains Lanyon’s contextualising exhibition narrative and images of the exhibits. Softback, 98 pages, with full colour illustrations, £12.95, available from PEER. Lanyon’s new artist’s book, The Daughters of Radon, is available at Bookartbookshop and can be purchased at the shop or on line,


Andrew Lanyon was born and still lives in Cornwall. He studied filmmaking in the late 60s and spent several years as a photographer presenting a major touring show The Rooks of Trelawne at The Photographer’s Gallery in 1976. He has self-published limited edition letterpress books since 1987, beginning with Deadpan, the first of the Rowley series that still continues. As well as over 30 artist’s books, he has produced larger-run publications such as A Fairy Find (Portobello Books) and Circular Walks Around Rowley Hall (Atlas Press) both 2006. He has written highly acclaimed books on his father the painter Peter Lanyon, Alfred Wallis as well as other painters, sculptors, writers and poets. During the mid 90s, alongside painting, collage and writing, Lanyon returned to filmmaking, the first was Splatt dhe Wertha (Plot for Sale), an award-winning Cornish language film directed by Bill Scott. Other films include Laughing Gas, Badly Parked Car and Fairy Questions Answered. His work is in private and public collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Free gallery talk: 
Andrew Lanyon will discuss his work at the Bacchus Pub and Kitchen on Saturday 25 June at 4pm.

Artist's multiple:
To raise funds for PEER's programme Andrew Lanyon has generously produced contemporary reprints of photographs taken by the artist in the 1960s. Click on titles of works to view and buy a copy: Boy Jumping, House of Cards, Alacrity Shipwreck, Cornwall, Striped Dress.

This project has been generously supported by:

The Paul & Louise Cooke Endowment
The Elephant Trust