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This monumental work is a striking example of Colin Moss' strength as a realist painter but also, with the highly textured paint surface and intense palette, shows the influence of expressionist technique on his work.
Moss’ work is often compared to Josef Herman's (a contemporary and co-exhibitor at the Zwemmer Gallery in the 1950s) but whereas Herman focused on the miners of South Wales, for Moss it was the hulking figures of Ipswich dockers engaged in heavy work. In this example, the burly mass of a faceless labourer is contorted into the picture space, further emphasising the back-breaking nature of the task.
Colin Moss was born in Ipswich but shortly afterwards moved to Devonport, Plymouth following the death of his father at Passchendaele in 1917. He studied firstly at Plymouth College of Art (1930-1934) and subsequently was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art (1934-1938) where he was trained by Sir William Rothenstein and Gilbert Spencer.
During the Second World War, he was employed by the Ministry of Home Security to design camouflage for public buildings vulnerable to air attack. Many of these designs are now in the collection of the Imperial War museum (which you can see here). In 1941 he was drafted into the Life Guards and served in the Middle East where he remained till after the war, subsequently joining the Army Education Corps in Palestine. The numerous sketches he produced during this period were the basis for many of his large scale masterworks.
In 1947 he joined the staff of Ipswich Art School where he remained until 1974, teaching amongst many other notable students, Maggi Hambling and Brian Eno. Maggi Hambling recalled,
"He was a very inspirational teacher....(emphasising to students) paint or draw what you see rather than what you think you see....his whole attitude to the physicality of painting had a huge effect on me...".
Interview with BBC Suffolk at a retrospective of Colin Moss, Ipswich Town Galleries, 2010
He was also a member of the Ipswich Art Club from 1948 but was very much at odds with the conventional outlook of its president Anna Airy, ultimately resigning in 1953. He rejoined in 1961 and was sponsored by the club to study under Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg. Kokoschka was an expressionist with eccentric training methods, rewarding his pupils with sweets for swift and accomplished studies of nudes. Moss was later to become chairman of the Ipswich Art Club in 1980.
The main body of Moss's work is very much in the realist tradition, often depicting hulking Ipswich dock workers engaged in hard labour. His choice of subject and palette bears comparison to the monumental Welsh miners seen in the work of Josef Herman (1911-2000) (a co-exhibitor at the Zwemmer Gallery in the 1950s). He exhibited extensively in his lifetime, including at the Royal Academy and Royal Watercolour Society. His work is held by the Imperial War Museum, the British Museum and the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Collection.