Lost works by John Latham

RICHARD SALTOUN

I have been interested in John Latham ever since I heard that he had chewed up and spat out a seminal art historical text that I knew well. It was, of course, because he rejected all the things it stood for and didn’t intend to follow its precepts. I made contact with Latham in 2002. He lived at Flat Time House, a Victorian terrace in Peckham with a massive steel book sculpture projecting from the front window into the street outside and we worked on a print project together. In fact, these were the first print works he ever produced. And I bought up any work of his that I could find.

I knew that a number of very early works had been sold at an extraordinary auction that took place in the Six Bells pub in the King’s Road, Chelsea. This had been a haunt of artists for many years – it is near the Chelsea art school, and the landlord at the time sold a group of important early works by Latham – and others by artists like Sandra Blow and Mark Boyle. The Lathams were very significant ones, because they were the first ones where he had used the spray gun, which became highly important to him. The trouble was that, due to the ad hoc nature of the proceedings, no one had any record of who had bought them or where they had ended up.

I talked to people familiar with the art scene at the time, but made little headway. Finally I came across a reference to one of the paintings belonging to a private collector in Germany. After much chasing and tracking, I found this person, who was able to tell me how she had acquired it. I was then finally able to track down an Engish art dealer who had bought some of the Lathams in the Chelsea pub but later emigrated to Germany. It was a matter of further detective work to find the people to whom he had subsequently sold the works, one of whom was a German who had settled in Turkey. I am delighted to have been able – finally – to bring these fantastically creative works back to the UK.

  • About

    John Latham (February 23, 1921 – January 1, 2006, born in Zambia) was a conceptual artist whose work was founded upon his personal ethical and scientific beliefs.