biography

Born in Chelsea in 1948, John Percy spent much of his childhood in Kent and began painting at 14. He was influenced by his father, a Northumberland coalminer who had become an animator during the Second World War, then a technical illustrator in the Admiralty. Though he continued to paint, John studied graphic design at Ravensbourne College of Art, graduating in 1967, and worked as an animator before turning to painting full-time in 1989.

A child of the postwar era who came of age as an artist in the 1960s and 70s, John's work explores the "disorderly-order" that surrounds us and depicts the "continual struggle between necessary order and desirable anarchy" that courses through modern, complex societies.

His canvases are full of tensions: formal grids underpin semi-planned arrangements of colour - sometimes swept onto the canvas thickly, sometimes poured. Paint bleeds into paint, as if accidentally. Strong verticals suggest an enigmatic division of the canvas that may or may not be regulated. "Choice and chance" are the dominant processes at work, their innate tension resolved in the sensations, feelings and moods provoked in the mind of the viewer.

John's work is unashamedly abstract and recalls the progressive ideals of modernism; and John himself is unashamedly a painter, working with authenticity in a 'traditional' medium that offers him an antidote to the modern world’s insatiable impulse towards novelty. In this, his work drives towards something more 'real' and permanent than the consumerised objects that surround us, and it is simultaneously a critique of modern life and a celebration of the expression of personal feeling.

John himself likens his work to music and himself to a composer, arranging paint rather than sounds "in a certain order to achieve harmony, rhythm and melody". You might also see in his paintings an analogy with his other passion - cycle racing: every painting is a journey pushed on by the urgent physicality required to make a definitive statement. What remains on the canvas is a record of the journey just completed and the stillness that accompanies arrival at journey's end. His paintings are indeed "contemplative objects".

For almost ten years from 1989, John practiced his art as his living and developed the almost purely abstract style that we see today. He exhibited widely and sold well. Then, in 1998, he stopped painting abruptly, returned to work as a graphic designer and gave his free time to cycle racing, first as a rider then as a coach.

The unplanned hiatus lasted 15 years. In 2012 he retired and returned to his original passion, driven by the need to complete the expression of his singular and necessary vision of the world. "I paint," he says, "because I still find it exciting. I paint abstracts because my mind works that way. It seems like the natural thing to do."

Simon Wicks, writer and journalist