This is not about chessers who merely doodle or, to flip it over, artists whose first move is with their rook’s pawn. It is about artists who feel compelled to create serious artworks and who are also driven to play proper chess (and that's not as in the back of the team captain’s car, obviously). Or the other way round. Marcel Duchamp was the grandaddy of them all, but he has had his fifteen minutes of fame, and then some, so let’s have a look at a hitherto unsung chess-artist: Philip Poyser (1912 - 1988).
Phil didn't hit the big time chess-wise. Nor did he as an artist, but he was a very able one, dedicated to his métier. His work crops up now and then at auction, and so some of it is on-line, though seldom given a date. Although it is a limited selection of his work, it says a lot about Philip Poyser the chess playing artist.
He used watercolour and oils, was accomplished in both, and his most effective pictures show an eye for atmosphere and light. Take this simple watercolour, for example, suggesting that apart from his art he had other ways of supplementing his income....
Dog Track.It was probably blocked in on the spot to fix the hard electric glare. Watercolour is often said to be a fickle medium, as you can see where it has blotched above the canopy. But it is portable, fast and unobtrusive. You can imagine Phil perching up at the back, washing in the colour.
Which dog track was it? Wimbledon Stadium – not far from Richmond - is still there, with floodlighting, though more often these days it is bashed-in stock cars that tear up the track. But, apparently, as recently as 1955 there was yet another stadium two miles north in Wandsworth Town. The cloth-cap dog racing culture was captured in a pavement level observation by Carel Weight. However, here there are no floodlights, so they stream home before the sun sets. Perhaps then, Phil was in Wimbledon Stadium after all.
The Dogs (1955-56)
Carel Weight (1908-1997) Tate Gallery.
This next one may have been unkindly treated by time, and the internet, as it is difficult to see the detail. But it looks like another on the spot sketch and may have just been a study for a studio piece. Using tinted paper again, he evokes a glowing summer's day.
Figures In A Busy Children's Playground.
Ink and watercolour.
Phil's other medium of choice was oils.
The Star of The Show (1946)Here he works up an image with greater impact. You can see again his fascination with artificial light, as well as for people en masse. He's caught the poise and fluid grace of the principal as she planes across the ice, calling up repeated echoes behind.
Richmond Bridge and Tower.Next along is a frank nude portrait: another lady (or maybe the skater, déshabillé) is to be found, with erotic intimacy, in a domestic setting. Any ice here has long since melted.
Reclining Nude (1932?)Don’t miss the ripe fruit allusion. Or the hint of mountain pictured on the wall - a visual rhyme with her explicit charms and, given her unabashed sexuality, maybe an aural pun on the artist’s carnal imaginings. Maybe he was only twenty at the time; the artist and his model: same old...same old...
Finally, there is this change of gear.
Dandelions (1949)We are back to watercolour, with Phil exploiting its potential for happy accidents. It's also a step away from his more conventional representational approach. The jump in scale goes beyond the literal, and invites a more allusive interpretation: perhaps it's a meditation on post-war bomb-site Britain: the weeds reclaim the wasteland, someone looks on helplessly, some Braque-ish birds and a stork promise new life....hmm....I'm sure you could do better.
So that was Phil Poyser, an eccentric Bohemian-like character according to Richard James (and thanks to Richard for his help with this post), and judging from his art, a man of the people very much at home in his corner of south west London. Following Duchamp he was the next of our chessers with the other talent. There may be more in due course.
Dog Track comes from here. Chinese Tower, Playground, and Nude come from here (where it says that the Nude was done in 1922, when he was only 10, so I'm guessing that was a mistake). The Star is from here. Richmond Bridge is here, and Dandelions is from here. I also came across a reference to a Portrait of Bill Norris , but without an image. Various other works, including more riverside views, are referred to here.
Chess in Art Index