On April 14th, after the 2021 Zoom AGM, Hawker Association President, Colin Wilson, entertained us with the story of his life in aviation painting. For his talk Colin chose a selection of works to show his love of painting as a hobby that spans 70 years. He was never happier as a boy than when drawing things; things that caught his eye in his Wiltshire surroundings, from farm tractors to aeroplanes, both in plentiful supply with farms down every lane and RAF Hullavington nearby. After moving to Surrey in 1950 and an education at Ottershaw School, Colin joined Vickers to begin his career in the aircraft industry.
    Colin first learned of the Kronfeld Aviation Art Club from an article in Flight magazine. Hosted at The Kronfeld Club in the basement at 74 Eccleston Square, SW1, it held an annual exhibition and competition and was wanting to encourage amateur painters to exhibit alongside a small group of professionals. These included such luminaries as David Shepherd, Michael Turner, Gerry Coulson, John Blake and Roy Nockolds. Colin decided to join the Club (membership 3) and entered his first work in 1965. He tried several different media starting with oils and watercolours but also using pen and ink wash, a technique used extensively by many book illustrators including one that Colin greatly admired, landscape artist Edward Seago.

Aviation Painting

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Colin then showed examples of his developing work starting with a pen and ink wash drawing of a Walrus made using Parker black ink with dilutions to give form to the aircraft. Next was another monochrome image but this time an oil sketch of a Sunderland `On Patrol`. He included this because it was his first ever demonstration and it was to a Guildford art club in response to a request from a Flight Development colleague (That’s me. Ed!).Next Colin showed his first Harrier painting to be exhibited at the Kronfeld Aviation Art Society Annual Exhibition in London in 1970. It was titled, `Harrier STO` and was bought by the Vice Chairman of the organising committee, John Blake. It was also mentioned by the Chairman of the Judging Panel, Frank Wootton, in his Report on the Exhibition. His walk-about observations of the works were always worth reading even if your entry was not among those to attract his attention but on this occasion my painting was and this is what he had to say about it: “C J Wilson who so ably succeeded with his Harrier painting has a remarkable resource for zestful enjoyment in applying his paint, a tremendous asset I would recommend to any illustrator who wished to impart a feeling of excitement to his work.” That was really quite encouraging.
    Next came a colour image of Harrier XV 740 of `A` Sqn Boscombe Down approaching HMS Eagle for a vertical landing in March 1970. Colin was present with John Farley for the two week duration of these sea trials, the first with the Harrier to explore and define safe operational limits for deck operations and enable the issue of a CA Release for ship deployments. As Colin had mentioned earlier, the painter Edward Seago had become a major influence in how he wanted to paint landscapes and the next painting was a winter view of Arundel Castle painted `en plein air` in January 1970 and was a conscious `nod` to how he thought Seago would go about it.
    A large oil-on-canvas painting of a Hunter FGA Mk 9 was entered in The Guild of Aviation Artists first exhibition in 1971, ‘The Premier Exhibition’, subtitled ‘Flight Through the Ages’, held at The Royal Aeronautical Society. It failed to tempt a buyer but two smaller sketches, of a Hurricane and a Beaufighter, did.
    Between 1971 and 1976 Colin continued to have work accepted for the Guild’s Annual Exhibition and also to sell well, including the next painting, `Sunderland at Rest`, at the Mall Galleries in 1976. The exhibition was to be Colin’s last for the next few years due to the family taking up residence in St Louis. There was however an exciting piece of news that arrived in a letter from the Chairman Roy Nockolds, to say he was happy to tell Colin that at a meeting of the Full Members at the Mall Galleries “you were elected to Full Membership so that you may now use the GAvA after your name, should you so wish”.
    Painted in St Louis the next picture, an oil of an AV-8A, “Raising the Dust”, was presented to Lieutenant General T H (Tom) Miller, US Marine Corps, to mark the occasion of his retirement, by K-B Managing Director, Colin Chandler at a Dinner hosted by British Aerospace in Washington DC. Lt General Miller was the first US Marine to fly the aircraft and played a leading part in its acquisition for the Marine Corps. Another picture inspired whilst in the USA when waiting at the holding point to depart New York La Guardia for St Louis, was of an inbound TWA 727 approaching to land. Called `Stormy Weather’, it was Colin’s only entry for the Guilds 1983 Exhibition and found a buyer.
    The next painting, of the prototype Hurricane taking off for its first flight, was painted for the 50th anniversary of the event on 6 November 1935, on the occasion of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s gathering at Brooklands to celebrate the Sir Sydney Camm team that had created this outstanding fighter. It now hangs at Brooklands in the Director’s office. A painting of the INS Viraat (previously HMS Hermes) was presented to her Commander, Captain Pasricha, at Devonport Naval Base in 1987. The Indian Navy kindly allowed its inclusion at the Guilds` Annual Exhibition marked in the catalogue, ‘NFS – Kindly loaned by the Indian Navy‘.
    Colin had ‘Side Canal, Venice’ accepted for Royal Institute of Painters in Oils 2007 Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. He had been advised before entering to forget Venice because the ROI professionals take all the Venice slots. He had only prepared three works and regarded this to be the best so it went forward and it was selected by the hanging committee whilst the other two were rejected.
    ‘Waiting at the Departure Gate, St Louis’ was sketched in ball point on 7 December 2003. Colin had been in town to attend the last AV-8B delivery at the former McDonnell Aircraft plant but with Boeing now writ large across the buildings and entrance gates - this did not sound right to him!
    For a painting of the Harrier approaching Royal Fleet Auxiliary Green Rover’s small flight deck off Greenwich Colin had to imagine being in `close formation` with Tony Hawkes as he moved slowly towards the landing spot. The demonstration took place in September 1971 but Colin did not get around to painting the picture until well into his retirement in 2007! A demo of a different kind was the painting he did at the Kingston YMCA in February 2010 for the Association. When the session ended there was still quite a lot to do before the picture could be called finished but all was completed and suitably framed before its presentation to the Hawker Association`s First President, John Glasscock, on his retirement from that office.
    There followed three paintings of Japan where Colin and his wife Frances were based for five years. Apart from a holiday in Australia all other leave was taken in-country from Hokkaido in the north to Shikoku by the Inland Sea and Kyushu in the southwest and of course Honshu the main island where they lived in Tokyo. One was exhibited at the Guildford Arts Summer Exhibition at the Yvonne Arnaud Mill House Gallery in 2016 where it found a buyer.
    Then came three paintings which featured tidal waterways which offer very attractive landscape subjects. They were `Early Light Fareham’ also exhibited at the previously mentioned Summer Exhibition venue in Guildford where it sold, together with ‘Low Tide Dell Quay‘, and a river scene at Eel Pie Island near Twickenham which sold at the Haslemere Art Society`s annual exhibition.
    The last picture Colin showed was of a Harrier which he painted in response to a request from the Chairman of the Guild of Aviation Artists who asked Full Members if they would donate a small painting for the 2019 Annual Exhibition. The paintings all had to be of A5 size, of an aircraft of choice that would be sold in an unmarked envelope for a `blind` lucky-dip fundraising sale at the exhibition. That was the last live exhibition at the Mall Galleries as it turned out and the lucky dip box at the sales desk emptied in rapid time.