Italy, France, Wiltshire



Canney considered a return to Cornwall  in 1984, but finally rejected this idea in favour of Italy, a country for which he had a special attachment, originally formed in the war. With his wife, he found a 14th-century palazzo in the mediaeval hilltop village of Casole d’Elsa, between San Gimignano and Siena, and established a studio there. He recounted his time there in a series of letters.

In an article for “Constructivist Forum”, issue 8, 1988, Canney wrote: “My work since 1970 has been mainly concerned with investigations of the square, exploring the formal possibilities offered by this stable, basic and non-referential shape. Although I have at times used a modular format or grid, I am by temperament drawn towards a more dynamic approach, in which a de-stabilisation of the square occurs through diagonal and oblique divisions of the surface.

“Amongst the many procedures investigated, cuts and folding of the square have suggested the option of low-relief, of shape reversal, inversion, shearing and above all, a reassembly of the parts within a logical, systematic, or mathematical framework. Musical analogies occur in the form of mirror images, inversions, contrapuntal movements, and variations on a theme.

“The above rearrangements of the square tend to avoid decisions which are random or dictated by taste, and the works are therefore in a sense systematic. Although structural demands and a desire for consistency are paramount, where colour and surface texture are concerned, taste and suitability usually play some part in the decisions taken. I am not, however, averse to using colour in a systematic way, a method that for me has led to new and surprising discoveries in the field of colour.”

After a year in France, Canney returned to live in Wiltshire in 1993, and continued painting until 1995, when ill health made further work impossible. He died on 29 December 1999.

In 2007 a posthumous exhibition at the Fine Art Society assembled
a selection of the alkyd works which had occupied Canney’s final years.
The catalogue can be downloaded at

The publicity for his Belgrave exhibition in 1995 noted that “Canney was in the vanguard of modern art in Cornwall, but until recently his contribution had not been fully recognised.” Peter Davies, however, in his book “St Ives Revisited”, places him “within that select circle of Cornish artists of the 1950s who were involved in, as Canney stated:
‘…a unique period of creativity.’ ”




Continental outlook

Above: Canney in his studio in Italy, late 1980s

Right, from top: “Construction 90”, 1990; “Casole d’Elsa”, 1984

A return to Italy, then back to Britain