Over several decades this use of colour has developed to become a palette of real bravado and beyond his abstract work, where you might expect colour experimentation, his figurative scenes are literally bombed with colour. In a way they are the pure colours of a childhood palette and eye – that bright blue sky and acid grass – the palette of immediacy, before the adult mind took over.
“It’s the way I use acrylic,” he says. “I work fast, the acrylics dry fast so you don’t need to labour them. There’s less volume, the layers are more successful. I am led by the intensity of the moment, not the illustration of it. Paint leads me. I don’t want to think too much about it, that’s the beauty of acrylic.”
The large colour-filled figurative works reflect Somerville’s serious interior response to the complexities even ironies of city life. There is religiosity and luminosity around the huge canvases; often an abstracted ‘archetypal figure’ (what he calls ‘the urban figure’) is repeated, icon-like without independent personality but with an avatar status within an anonymous city life – sometimes painted with shimmering halo and totemic symbols, books and bowls are typical – as if they are nourishing their mind, body.
In front of us now a large figurative triptych in acrylic, Fragmented City LA No 1, twelve individuals gathered in an urban landscape, intense but peaceful, the human condition collected but separate. Somerville has painted narratives like this through out his career but says: