Rodrigo Moynihan was born in Tenerife, Spain in 1910 to a Spanish mother and an English father. The family moved briefly to London before relocating to New York, where he graduated in 1927. After attending the Slade School of Art in London in 1928-31, Moynihan started a pioneering movement in painting called Objective Abstraction, together with a small group of artists that included Ivon Hitchens and William Coldstream. Their works were concerned with the medium itself, emphasizing painterly strokes, and were in their way a precursor of Abstract Expressionism that prompted the poet David Gascoyne at the time to describe them as an ‘explosion in a jam factory.’ Examples of these can be found at the Tate, the Hirshhorn Museum and other institutions around the world.
During the war, Moynihan served in the British Army before being recruited as an official war artist through the support of Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery in London. This established Moynihan as the premiere portrait painter in the United Kingdom, and led to his appointment as the head of painting at the Royal College of Art soon after the war. Under Moynihan’s auspices, the Royal College became the hub of the British art world, as Francis Bacon occupied Moynihan’s studio, and Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake and David Hockney were students. But Moynihan, always restless and never comfortable being pigeon-holed, soon was going back to abstraction. From this point forward, he would oscillate between abstraction and figuration with a distinct fluidity as Gerhard Richter and others would later do.
In the early 1970’s, Moynihan began making a series of still lifes comprised of tools of a painter’s trade haphazardly strewn on tables and shelves. Of these works the artist said: “It was especially important to me not to arrange the still life so as to form a pictorial grouping—a picture. I wanted the objects to be found…so that the dictionary words of describing an object disappear. I wanted to paint them because they looked like that—without my intervention—having arranged themselves like that in that particular light.”
Alongside these works, Moynihan painted numerous self-portraits, recording himself reflected in a mirror. The gold edge of the mirror acts as both a framing device and a compositional element, and changes angle, migrating throughout each canvas. These self-portraits show a contemplative painter in his later years, inextricably bound to his medium and life’s work. They also connect him with Diego Velázquez, whose court paintings were filled with humanity and physicality, and who notably recorded his own reflection in his masterpiece, Las Meninas. This group of works spanned nearly twenty years and has been written about extensively by an eminent list of commentators and critics, including Robert Rosenblum, John Russell, David Sylvester, John Yau, John Ashbery and many others. The last presentation of works by Moynihan was nearly 15 years ago in 2008 at Robert Miller Gallery in New York. David Nolan Gallery’s first exhibition of Moynihan’s work will be comprised of still lifes and self-portraits from the 1970s and 1980s.
Throughout his career, Rodrigo Moynihan’s work was exhibited in London by the Redfern Gallery, Leicester Galleries, Hanover Gallery, Fischer Fine Arts, and Karsten Schubert; in New York, by Charles Egan Gallery, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and Robert Miller Gallery; in Paris by Galerie Claude Bernard. His work appears in the collections of the Tate, London; Royal Academy of Arts Collection, London; National Portrait Gallery, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., amongst many others.