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Alan Cotton: Oration

Read Mrs Ruth Foreman's oration on Alan Cotton for the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts in December 2019.


Honorary Professor Alan Cotton
Honorary Professor Alan Cotton

Chancellor, from drawing and painting as a young boy, encouraged by his mother and his school for whom he was the kid who was good at art and asked to make all the posters, Alan Cotton is now one of Britain’s most distinctive landscape painters. During his career to date he has completed over 3000 paintings.

His work is distinguished by the use of painting knives, rather than brushes, to apply rich pigments. He was further encouraged to take this path with his skill by the Marxist writer and art critic John Berger as it was a means of applying paint to canvas that enabled his excitement with the malleability of oil paint to be realised.

Alan is a painter of nature and is deeply committed to encouraging others of all ages to engage with the practice of art, whether by visiting schools, giving lectures or inviting children to his Devon studio. From 2010 to 2016 he was President of the South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts, an organisation he helped to establish to encourage and support young artists. He is also a believer in charitable giving and as well as his own generosity has encouraged and persuaded his peers to donate works for fundraising. For example in 2017 he persuaded 21 well-known artists to paint a three foot high glass otter in support of the Dartmoor National Park. Art4MacMillan and Children’s Hospice South West as well as many others have also benefitted from this kindness.

He has travelled adventurously in search of places that particularly manifest the power and luminosity of nature. Those travels have taken him to Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Mediterranean and North Africa as well as around his home in Devon. Notably he accompanied David Hempleman Adams as Expedition Artist to Everest in 2011. In 2011 Alan was the University’s first Honorary Professor of Arts and in 2015 he and his wife Patricia were involved in advising the University on the establishment of our flagship centre for The Arts – The Edge – which was opened with a major retrospective of his work in the Andrew Brownsword Gallery. The University continues to benefit from Alan’s guidance in our provision of arts and culture to students, staff and the general public, most recently as a judge on our ‘Visions of Science’ art prize – the submissions for which were truly inspiring.

All of Alan’s work is underpinned by a belief that art, and particularly its use in celebrating the beauty of the countryside, has a redemptive power; that art conveys a message of optimism and hope. He is also a believer in exercise, ensuring he is energised every morning before the intense mental activity of his day in the studio. His own words, used in reference to his work, have a resonance of philosophy with all study and research: ‘the process is always a voyage of discovery. With each new work you should be thrilled with the prospect of actually applying the paint and discovering where you are going, not only with the combination of colours and range of marks but with the tapestry of the surface which allows you to convey the idea which inspired you and set you off on the path.’

Chancellor, in recognition of his contribution to this University and enhancement of the experience of students, staff and public; in addition to thank him for all he has done and continues to do for others, and importantly as one of Britain’s finest artists I present to you Alan Cotton who is exceptionally worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Arts, honoris causa.


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