Nevill Johnson (1911-1999)

Kilkeel Shipyard (1943)

Oil on canvas

43cm x 57cm

© the artist’s estate. From the Collection of Down County Museum

Nevill Johnson was born in Buxton, Derbyshire in 1911 and would later become a significant figure in Ireland’s art world in the mid-twentieth century. In 1934, Johnson was transferred to the Belfast branch of his employer Ferodo motor parts company, where he took up painting part-time. For the rest of the 1930s and early 1940s he experimented with Surrealism and Cubism. In 1946 he was offered a contract and allowance by the Dublin dealer Victor Waddington which allowed him to paint full time. In that same year he moved to Dublin and remained there until 1957 when he moved to London, sharing a flat with artists Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde. After this move, he became discontented with his work and indeed destroyed many of his paintings, stopping altogether until 1962. Upon his return to the world of art, he began to experiment with different media and gradually moved to abstract work which would dominate his practice throughout the 1970s. Johnson is represented in a number of museums across Ireland, as well as the OPW and Arts Council collections and a major retrospective of his work was held at the AVA Gallery, Clandeboye, Co. Down in 2008.

This piece was created in 1943, when Johnson was still pursuing his art practice part-time. It is a surrealist interpretation of the Kilkeel shipyard looking over towards the Mourne Mountains. Kilkeel is still a fishing port today, but in the 1940s was also a centre for boatbuilding as is depicted here. It is believed that Johnson destroyed much of the work he produced in Ireland, making this paining considerably important. It reveals his early interest in Surrealism and the clear influence of his close friend, the Belfast-born artist John Luke.