Recreating the art of Alfred Wallis

Recreating the art of Alfred Wallis

Max Wildman, an artist whose popular success revolves around an uncanny recreation of the techniques and style of the painter Alfred Wallis, exhibited a selection of recent work at vintage boutique Beatengreen during the St Ives September Festival this year.


Alfred Wallis is a legendary figure in St Ives artistic life. A fisherman and marine-stores dealer who took up painting in his seventies, Wallis is said to have amazed sophisticated modernists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood during their visit to St Ives in 1928. Whilst walking near Porthmeor Beach the pair happened upon this ‘naive’ painter working in his cottage, and both were inspired by his untrained, uninhibited style.

Wallis worked with whatever materials he could lay his hands on, mostly ordinary household or ship’s paints, as well as pencils and crayons. He used scraps of cardboard salvaged from the local grocer, and cut these into irregular shapes. Perspective was unimportant to this intuitive painter, who made objects bigger or smaller depending on the importance he placed upon them. His images were mostly of boats and, in depicting something so familiar to him, he portrayed an innate feeling for rhythm. Harbour scenes, where buildings cluster and jostle with atmospheric disorder, have also become symbolic of St Ives itself.


Wallis’ work became famous and sought-after, although he died before reaping any of the rewards. Many of his paintings can now be seen at Kettles Yard in Cambridge, which is where Max Wildman first encountered them. Having been fascinated by ‘primitive’ or ‘naive’ art for some time, Wildman began experimenting, reproducing the techniques of Wallis and drawing on the same subjects for inspiration. He uses mixed media on solid cardboard to create an authentic feel, and the works are presented in a variety of vintage frames.

Untrained himself, Wildman is now collected nationally and internationally as a painter working in the style of Alfred Wallis. Influential artist and sculptor John Maltby recently praised his work, saying “His paintings, though deceptively simple are often small aphorisms of the works of this unique St Ives artist. Once again – Wallis is affordable!!” Wildman, who stayed in Wallis’ cottage for the duration of the festival, was happy to show his paintings in the town which inspired the original work. He explained “Wallis embodies St Ives in many ways. It’s great to come here and show these works at a time when the town is buzzing with people and culture.”

Beatengreen, the chosen venue for Wildman’s exhibition, is run by creative couple Matt and Kerry Knight, and was nominated in the category of Vintage Shop of the Year in the Homes and Antiques Magazine Awards 2013. This was the first time the eclectic emporium, which stocks accessories, artworks, textiles and bags as well as original vintage furniture, took part in the St Ives September Festival. Matt Knight explained their enthusiasm for the venture, saying “this exhibition connects St Ives’ artistic past with its creative and aspiring present, and we’re proud to be part of that.”