John Minto, “Portrait of Kevin Maybury”, 1956, Oil on Canvas, 129.4 x 98.8 cm, Tate Museum, London
In April of 1956, painter John Minton took a one-year hiatus without pay from his position as head of the Painting Department of London’s Royal College of Art. This was at a period in his career when his figurative style of painting was being overtaken by the new movement of Abstract Expressionism. Minton was having profound doubts about the relevance of painting in the modern world and doubts about his own ability as a teacher and a painter.
Shortly after leaving the Royal College, Minton accepted a commission to design stage sets for two productions at London’s Royal Court Theater, “Don Juan” and “The Death of Satan”. These two plays, to be presented by the English Stage Company, were written by playwright Ronald Duncan and had been previously performed, “Don Juan” in 1953 and “The Death of Satan”, a comedy performed in 1954.
While working at the theater, John Minton met Kevin Maybury, an Australian carpenter working in the scenery department. A relationship developed and by the winter of 1956 Maybury had moved into Minton’s Chelsea house at 9 Apollo Place. Although Minton made several portrait drawings of Maybury, the”Portrait of Kevin Maybury”, shown above, is the only painting of Maybury known to be done by Minton.
Finding himself out of sync with the new abstract expressionist movement, John Minton found himself left by the wayside in the painting world. He suffered psychological problems and turned to self-medicating with alcohol. In January of 1957, John Minton died, at the age of thirty-nine, from an overdose of sleeping pills in what was ruled a suicide.
After Minton’s death, Kevin Maybury subsequently had a distinguished career as a stage manager in South Africa and was the first person to earn a lifetime achievement award for services to South African theatre. Kevin Maybury died. at the age of eighty-four, in July of 2013 at his home in Johannesburg.
The “Portrait of Kevin Maybury”, most likely painted at the workshop in The Royal Court Theater during the summer of 1956, shows Kevin Maybury, posed and informally dressed, holding a collapsible ruler and surrounded by the tools of his trade. The surface of the canvas is composed of geometric forms upon which tools lie at angles. The right side of the canvas is dominated by the easel which seems to lie flat on the plane of the canvas surface. This combined with the tilted up floor shortens the depth of the image.
Top Insert Image: Michael Ayrton, “John Minton”, October 1941, Oil on Panel, 41 x 33.5 cm, Private Collection
Middle Insert Image: John Minton, “Kevin Maybury Having a Nap”, 1956-1957, Ink and Wash on Paper, 25.2 x 37 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: John Minton, “Kevin Maybury and Spanish Boy”, Pen, Ink, Gouache and Crayon on Paper, 37.3 x 27.3 cm, Private Collection