Readers of a certain age may not recall the name of Ron Embleton, but there’s a good chance that they will have grown up marvelling at the superb illustrations he created for publications such as the children’s titles Look and Learn, Eagle and Boys’ World, as well as the comic strip adaptations of Gerry Anderson puppet shows, including Stingray and Captain Scarlet.
Embleton, born in the East End of London in 1930, also produced the saucy Oh, Wicked Wanda! comic strip for Penthouse magazine, penned cartoons for the News of the World and single-handedly wrote and painted a strip for Express Weekly from 1957 to 1960. What few among his legions of fans may have appreciated, however, is that Embleton’s true love was painting in oils – he was taught the craft at South-East Essex Technical College by none other than David Bomberg, one of the greatest British artists of the 20th century, who also tutored Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.
Embleton began painting in earnest during the 1950s, after returning from national service in Malaya, and was just 30 years old when he was invited to join the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. Now, London dealer Messum’s is staging a selling exhibition of 37 Embleton oils from the estate, left behind after his death in 1988 at the early age of 57.
The works represent a dramatic contrast to Embleton’s meticulously finished illustrations, being loosely painted abstract, semi-abstract and occasionally figurative canvases depicting land, cityscapes and people. Among the highlights are a monumental 1m x 1.5m work entitled Winter Landscape (£16,500), a vibrant view of a wet London street called City by Night and the evocative Spanish Town (each priced £12,500).
Smaller works include Desert Town, an oil on paper (£2,250), a trio of nudes (£3,250-£3,850) and three fully abstract oils entitled Details of Landscape Green/Blue/Red that are each priced at £3,850 and deserve to remain together.
The only painting that hints at Embleton’s better-known illustrative style, however, is Man in Bar, a masterly depiction of perspective, atmosphere and the numbing effects of over-drinking. It is priced at £4,250.
Running alongside the show is the first major live and online selling exhibition of Embleton’s illustration art. The 800 works are priced from £250 and can be seen and purchased through the Illustration Art Gallery website.