SWINGING OUT INTO THE VOID BRITISH ABSTRACT ART 1950â€“1985
PORTLAND GALLE RY
'The abstract painter submits himself entirely to the un-knownâ€Ś he is like a man swinging out into the void; his only props his colours, his shapes and their space-creating powers. Can he construct with these means a barque capable of carrying not only himself to some further shore, but, with the aid of others, a whole flotilla which may be seen, eventually, as having been carrying humanity forward to their unknown destination?' Roger Hilton
SWINGING OUT INTO THE VOID BRITISH ABSTRACT ART 1950–1985
26 JUNE – 31 AUGUST 2017 Monday – Friday 10 am – 6 pm
PORTLAND GALLE RY 3 BENNET STREET
LONDON SW1A 1RP
T E L E P H O N E 020 7493 1888
www.portlandgallery.com Cover: Michael Kidner RA
Oil on canvas
60 x 60 ins
SWINGING OUT INTO THE VOID
British abstract art emerged from the ashes of the Second World War. The privations of six years of war had taken their toll upon Europe and, as the mist of the devastation began to clear, London and its neighbouring capitals were left with an urgency to economically, politically and physically rebuild. A gloomy Realism had taken hold in Britain and the avant-garde revolutionary practices that had flourished in pre-war Paris found new fertile ground across the Atlantic, as New York became the centre for modern art.
This new creative climate heralded the dramatic rise of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s. Artists, such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman, pioneered explorations into fresh approaches, techniques and styles that challenged the past to arrive at a completely new way of painting. They explored in their unique ways what was meant by the terms ‘abstract’ and ‘abstraction’, leading to diverse practices while remaining joined by one shared cause. American Abstract Expressionism soon took hold and began to disseminate across Europe.
Post-War Britain held an important role within this international dialogue and soon emerged as a dynamic hub for the exchange of ideas between Europe and the United States. British artists began to re-engage with the experimental vanguard and, true to the national tendency, each discovered the infinite formal and expressive possibilities of abstraction through their own unique journeys. Painters, such as Alan Davie, William Scott, Patrick Heron, and Roger Hilton, began to exhibit in New York and Paris and soon formed friendships with their contemporary abstractionists. While their styles differed, they were joined in the shared responsibility to approach abstraction with a spirit of exploration. A sentiment perfectly captured by Roger Hilton when he said of their experiences, 'The abstract painter submits himself entirely to the un-known… he is like a man swinging out into the void; his only props his colours, his shapes and their space-creating powers’.
These were significant developments for Modern British Art, however a defining moment came in the late 1950s when the Museum of Modern Art in New York sent two major surveys of American painting to the
Tate Gallery in London; Modern Art in the United States in 1956 and The New American Painting in 1959. The impact these two exhibitions had on artists in Britain cannot be underestimated. For the older generation of British abstract painters, it reaffirmed their cause and spurred them on to even greater aesthetic achievements. For the younger generation, it inspired a dedication to emulate and build upon the American example as they altered their manner of working and turned to abstract art with new fervour. After this John Berger’s and David Sylvester’s attempts to find a critical justification for Realism lost all relevance as cultural interest shifted towards the abstract.
As a result, the 1960s proved to be an important period for abstraction in Britain. The exhibitions, Situation, first held in 1960 and later in 1961 emphasised the importance of working on a large scale with purely pictorial elements making no reference to outside phenomena. The viewer was now expected to engage with the physical presence of the work, no longer simply viewing but experiencing it. The 1960s and 70s saw a generation of British artists responding to the ambition and innovation of Abstract Expressionism, but importantly extending that legacy in unexpected ways. As David Mellor described this was ‘a crucial turning point in post-war British visual culture’. By focusing on space, surface, scale and process they reaffirmed the language of abstraction, investing it with a startling assurance, clarity and energy.
There has been a temptation by many to cast chapters of Modern British art to the outer margins of art history, however here we can retrospectively appreciate the contribution made. The late 1940s through to the 1980s was an extraordinary moment for British art. The abstract art produced was characterised by a distinct character of its own, a richness of invention and an extraordinary vitality that still carries enormous impact and power. British abstract artist’s work challenged rules, moved boundaries and pushed towards a new aesthetic frontier and, in so doing, satisfied Hilton’s query as to whether abstract art had the collective power to carry ‘humanity forward to their unknown destination?'
GESTURAL ABSTRACTION The term gestural abstraction was originally coined to describe the work of American Abstract Expressionist artists, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and others; defining their process of applying paint to the canvas through the spontaneous and physical act of dripping, pouring, splattering and spraying. This practice allowed chance to play its hand in the creation of an artwork and placed a higher significance on the materiality of the medium, all of which, the artists believed, brought their art closer to their deepest emotions and primal realities. Their subject was the act of painting itself. As the art critic Harold Rosenberg put it, ‘At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act-rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyse or express an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.’ Inspired by this, many British abstract painters explored the virtues and pushed the boundaries of gestural abstraction. Alan Davie and John Hoyland made important contributions to this field; employing vehement brushstrokes, dynamic splashes of paint and bold formations of colour to explore their inner emotions and connect with their subconscious. Their paintings rejoice in the materiality of their maker’s mark, granting the viewer a tangible connection to the artist’s emotional and physical energy. In many ways, the painting itself becomes a relic of the action; it is a recording of the gestures made and an aesthetic remnant of something intuitive, idiosyncratic and free.
1. Alan Davie RA, CBE Flag Dreams No.3 Signed, titled and dated ‘JUN 57’ (verso) Oil on board 48 x 60 ins Provenance:
Gimpel Fils, London Fairweather Hardin Gallery, Chicago Private Collection
New York, Catherine Viviano Gallery, Alan Davie, 5–23 November 1957, cat.no.12
A. Bowness, Alan Davie, Lund Humphries, London, 1967, cat. no.178 D. Hall & M. Tucker, Alan Davie, Lund Humpheries, London, 1992, cat. no.225
2. Alan Davie RA, CBE Bull God No.5 Signed, titled and dated ‘55’ (verso) Oil on board 48 x 60 ins Provenance:
Gimpel Fils, London
London, Gimpel Fils, Alan Davie, 29 November–7 January 2006, cat.no.93
A. Bowness, Alan Davie, Lund Humphries, London 1967, cat.no.93 D. Hall & M. Tucker, Alan Davie, Lund Humphries, London 1992, cat.no.124
3. Alan Davie RA, CBE Game For Girls Signed, titled and dated â€˜APR 57â€™ (verso) Oil on board 40 x 48 ins Provenance:
Gimpel Fils, London Mr and Mrs Yoland Markson, Los Angeles Private Collection
Los Angeles, Ester Robles Gallery, Alan Davie, 1961
A. Bowness, Alan Davie, Lund Humphries, London 1967, cat.no.165
4. John Hoyland RA Untitled 69 Signed (lower right) and dated ‘69’ (lower left) Acrylic on paper 21 x 29 ins Provenance:
5. John Hoyland RA Untitled 69 Signed and dated â€˜69â€™ (verso) Acrylic on paper 21 x 29 ins Provenance:
The Waddington Galleries, London Anon. sale, DuMouchelles Fine Arts Detroit, 1 December 2007, Lot.2016 Private Collection
“Paintings are there to be experienced, they are events. They are also to be meditated on and to be enjoyed by the senses; to be felt through the eye.” (John Hoyland: Paintings 1967 – 1979, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 1979)
6. John Hoyland RA Pilgrim 25.1.75 Signed, titled and dated ‘25.1.75’ (verso) Acrylic on canvas 22 x 18 ins Provenance:
Albemarle Gallery, London Anon. sale, Sotheby’s Arcade, 21 February 1990, Lot.343 Private Collection
ABSTRACT REALITY The term abstract can also be applied to art that is based on an object, figure or landscape, whose recognisable features and forms have been distilled down to geometric shapes, gestural marks and coloured abstract forms. This idea was first explored by Cubism, a movement whose revolutionary new approach to representing reality was conceived by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. By as early as 1907, they were exploring methods of condensing different views of reality together into the same picture, resulting in paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted. Cubism was the starting point for an infinite number of new possibilities for the treatment of visual reality in abstract art. British Abstract artists engaged with these ideas, exploring new ways in which to include depictions of natural forms, spiritual motifs and political and social messages within abstract compositions. Artists, such as Merlyn Evans and Alan Davie, developed highly personal abstract styles that were rooted in reality. Davie was adamant that his images are not pure abstraction, but all have significance as symbols; while Evans’s work was deeply affected by the poverty and violence he witnessed growing up in Glasgow during the depressed years of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Both artists were well read in psychology, philosophy, politics, science, and the history and techniques of art, as well as in modernist literature and contemporary poetry. Examples of these sources taken from life can be found in their abstract work.
7. Alan Davie RA, CBE Signals For Little Tut Signed, titled and dated ‘1963 DEC’ (verso) Oil on board 48 x 60 ins Provenance:
The Artist, where acquired by the previous owner in 2007
D. Hall & M. Tucker, Alan Davie, Lund Humpheries, London, 1992, cat. no.531A
“Evans was after nothing less than Matisse’s ‘completeness and abstraction… filtered to its essentials’.” (M. Gooding, Merlyn Evans, Cameron & Hollis, Maffat, 2010, p. 145)
8. Merlyn Evans Conflict No.3 Signed and dated ‘58-59-Winter’ (lower left) Oil on canvas 84 x 111 ins Provenance:
The Artist’s family Thence by descent
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Merlyn Evans, 24 February - 26 March 1967 London, Malborough Fine Art, Merlyn Evans: Events and Abstractions, 1968, cat. no.19 (illustrated) Cardiff, The Welsh Arts Council, Merlyn Evans, 1974, cat. no.53 London, The New Art Centre, Seven Paintings 1965 - 1968, 1981 London, Portland Gallery, British Abstract Art 1950 - 1985, 10 - 31 October 2008, cat. no.18 (illustrated in colour, p.27)
M. Gooding, Merlyn Evans, Cameron & Hollis, Maffat, 2010 (illustrated in colour, p.74)
9. Alan Davie RA, CBE Fish Cross Signed, titled and dated â€˜1967â€™ (verso) Oil on board 20 x 32 ins Provenance:
10. Alan Davie RA, CBE Variation for Empty Bottles, No.2 Signed and dated â€˜60â€™ (lower left) Oil on paper laid on board 16.5 x 21 ins Provenance:
Gimpel Fils, London Private Collection
OPTICAL ABSTRACTION Op Art, as a term, was first introduced by Time magazine to describe a major development of painting in the 1960s that played with the optical effects of colour and shape. Drawing on colour theory and the psychology of perception, Optical Abstraction used a framework of geometric forms to create optical effects that ranged from the subtle, to the disturbing and disorienting. Michael Kidner was a pioneer of the movement, which came to public attention after an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965, entitled The Responsive Eye. Many other British artists played major roles in the movements development. Jeffrey Steele, Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley, forged new ground in evolving the relationship between the observer and a work of art, conveying a real sensation of movement through the interplay of forms and contrasting colour. For Op artists, abstract artworks existed less as objects to be examined than as generators of perceptual responses in the eye and the mind as the canvas oscillated between the two and three dimensional. Both Michael Kidner and John Plumb explored the possibilities surrounding this practice; creating images that are at once ordered and chaotic, rigorously structured and deeply disorientating, that both confuse and excite the eye.
11. Michael Kidner RA Orange To Violet Titled (on the stretcher) Oil on canvas 47.5 x 37 ins Exhibited:
London, Serpentine Gallery, Michael Kidner: Painting, Drawing and Sculpture, 1959 – 1984, organised by the Arts Council of Great Britain, 4 November – 2 December 1984, cat. no.14 (illustrated, p. 12). This exhibition later travelled to Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, 30 January – 2 March 1985. London, Portland Gallery, British Abstract Art 1950 – 1985, 10 – 31 October 2008, cat. no.36 (illustrated in colour, p.35)
12. Michael Kidner RA Tuscany Church Signed and dated ‘61’ (on the stretcher) Oil on canvas 60 x 60 ins Provenance:
The Artist Alfred Stiles & Sons, London
London, Grabowski Gallery, Michael Kidner, Painting: William Tucker, Sculpture, 28 March – 21 April 1962 Bradford, Bradford City Art Gallery, Spring Exhibition, 1963 London, Serpentine Gallery, Michael Kidner: Painting, Drawing and Sculpture, 1959 – 1984, organised by the Arts Council of Great Britain, 4 November – 2 December 1984, cat. no.9 (illustrated, p. 11). This exhibition later travelled to Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, 30 January – 2 March 1985. Lodz, Museum of Contemporary Art, Michael Kidner, 1985, cat. no.3 London, Portland Gallery, British Abstract Art 1950 – 1985, 10 – 31 October 2008, cat. no.35 (illustrated in colour, p.33)
13. John Plumb Preston 1 Signed, titled and dated ‘61’ (verso) Mixed media 48 x 48 ins Provenance:
Hull, Ferens Art Gallery, John Plumb, 1965, cat. no.8 Coventry, Herbert Art Gallery, Metamorphosis: Figure into Abstract – The Sir Albert Centenary Exhibition, 1966, cat. no.56 London, Portland Gallery, British Abstract Art 1950 – 1985, 10 – 31 October 2008, cat. no.46 (illustrated in colour, p.51)
14. John Plumb Colour Steps No.3 Signed, titled and dated ‘1970’ (on the canvas overlap) Oil on canvas 29.5 x 63.5 ins Provenance:
London, Pasinel Gallery, 25 Years of Post-War British Art, 13 June – 6 July 2007, cat. no.21 London, Portland Gallery, British Abstract Art 1950–1985, 10 – 31 October 2008, cat. no.47 (illustrated in colour, p.53)
CONSTRUCTED ABSTRACTION The Constructivist tradition originated in the particularly austere branch of abstract art, Russian Constructivism. Founded by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko in Russia around 1915, their theories focused upon the idea that art should directly reflect the modern industrial world. Tatlin was highly influenced by Cubist constructions and was soon making his own, entirely abstract, works composed from industrial materials. As written in the 1923 Constructivist manifesto, ‘The object is to be treated as a whole and thus will be of no discernible ‘style’ but simply a product of an industrial order like a car, an aeroplane and such like. Constructivism is a purely technical mastery and organisation of materials.’ Their revolutionary objectives soon became absorbed by prominent European avant-garde art movements, such as De Stijl, the Bauhaus and Groupe Espace. An authentic Constructivist division first emerged in Britain with the Constructionist Group of the 1950s, centred around Victor Pasmore, Anthony Hill and Kenneth Martin. In the 1960s more artists began working in a constructive mode, with several invited by Malcolm Hughes and Jeffrey Steele to form the Systems Group in 1969. In the 70s, Paul Lohse said of British Constructive art that, in general, it was not concerned with colour and tended to be mathematical in character. However, this changed in the 1980s, when the exploration of systematic use of colour became more fashionable among constructivist artists, such as Hughes and Kidner. As the 1923 manifesto prefigured, British Constructivism had no discernible style but was harnessed by the shared principals of, the artwork as its own subject, free of mimetic references or symbolism, the production of the work being one of construction and an emphasis on the rationality of the construction process.
15. Vera Spencer Suspended Forms on Umber Signed and dated ‘52’ (lower left) Oil on canvas 30 x 20 ins Provenance:
Private Collection Paisnel Gallery, London
Paris, Galerie Arnaud, Trois Peintres, 16 – 29 October 1952 London, Adrian Heath’s Studio, 3rd Weekend Exhibition, 1953 London, Portland Gallery, British Abstract Art 1950 – 1985, 10 – 31 October 2008
16. Malcolm Hughes Chromatic Study B Titled, dated ‘1985’ and inscribed (verso) Oil on board 9 x 7.5 ins Provenance:
Anneley Juda Fine Art, London Arthur Andersen & Co Art Collection, acquired in 1987 Deloitte Art Collection, acquired in 2002 Their sale, Lyon & Turnbull, London, 10 January 2008, Lot.189
London, Portland Gallery, British Abstract Art 1950 – 1985, 10 – 31 October 2008, cat. no.32 (illustrated in colour, p. 63)
17. Vera Spencer Abstract Collage Signed and dated ‘1958’ with newsprint (centre) Gouache on card with collage 21 x 15 ins Provenance:
Paisnel Gallery, London
London, Paisnel Gallery, Vera Spencer, Paintings & Collages 1950’s – 1960’s, 16 – 22 May 2007, cat. no.11 London, Portland Gallery, British Abstract Art 1950 – 1985, 10 – 31 October 2008
COLOUR FIELD ABSTRACTION Colour Field painting was a term initially applied to the work of three of the major American Abstract Expressionist artists, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. Originally used as a chapter title in Irvine Sandler’s ground breaking history, Abstract Expressionism, published in 1970, ‘The Colour Field Painters’ work primarily featured large fields of solid colour spread across or stained into the canvas creating areas of unbroken surface. As opposed to their ‘Action Painter’ contemporaries, they placed less emphasis on gesture and action in favour of an overall consistency of form and process. In colour field painting ‘colour is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself.’ In Britain, major developments in colour field painting took hold in the 1960s. John Hoyland, Robyn Denny and Richard Smith, among others, began to explore this new direction, moving away from the anxiety of gestural abstraction towards a fresh and seemingly calmer language of colour. Often using formats of stripes, targets and simple geometric patterns, British artists worked to free colour from its contextual restraints. For Hoyland, the surface of his paintings became an overriding key feature to their identity as he repeatedly built up and scraped back the paint creating strong layers and passages of tone. 'Paintings are there to be experienced, they are events. They are also to be meditated on and to be enjoyed by the senses; to be felt through the eye.'
18. John Hoyland RA 25.5.74 Signed twice (on the canvas overlap) Acrylic on canvas 72 x 66 ins Provenance:
Albemarle Gallery Private Collection
19. John Hoyland RA 29.7.75 Signed and dated (on the canvas overlap) Acrylic on canvas 48 x 36 ins Provenance:
Waddington Galleries, London Andre Emmerich, Zurich Private Collection
“Paintings are a kind of dream language, and like music they propose a new reality. Simplicity can give them their greatest power.”
(From a talk first given at the Tate Gallery in 1994; and again in 2005 in Mauritius (titled ‘Invisible Artist or Performing Bear’)
20. John Hoyland RA Akkad 27.9.72 Signed and dated twice (on the canvas overlap) Acrylic on canvas 72 x 66 ins Provenance:
Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York Private Collection, United States of America
HARD EDGE ABSTRACTION Hard-edge painting was originally coined by the Californian art critic, writer and curator Jules Langster in 1959 to describe the geometric abstraction of four West Coast American artists, Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley and John McLaughlin. These painters aimed to move away from the expressive qualities of gestural abstraction towards a cleaner aesthetic that prioritised a consciously impersonal application of paint, economy of form and richness of colour. Deriving from Precisionism, De Stijl and Neo-Plasticism, the autonomous shapes of cleanedged colour served to enhance the flatness of the picture plane. While initially developed in California, hard-edge painting soon disseminated across the United States and Michael Tyzack’s 1960s abstract works can be seen to recall these transatlantic ideas. The British art critic Lawrence Alloway defined hard edge painting as having an ‘economy of form, fullness of colour and a neatness of surface’, a description applicable to Tyzacks early works, such as Benjonson and Magdeburg.
21. Michael Tyzack Magdeburg Acrylic on canvas 85 x 85 ins Provenance:
The Estate of Michael Tyzack
London, Axiom Gallery, Michael Tyzack, Recent Paintings, April 1966 Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Sculptures and Painting: John Hoskin & Michael Tyzack, 1970 London, Portland Gallery, Michael Tyzack, May – June 2009, cat.no.5 (illustrated in colour, p.19 and as a detail on the front cover)
22. Michael Tyzack Benjonson Signed (on the canvas overlap); titled and dated twice (on the canvas overlap) Acrylic on canvas 72 x 72 ins Provenance:
The Estate of Michael Tyzack
London, Axiom Gallery, Michael Tyzack, Recent Paintings, April 1966 Manchester, Manchester City Gallery, Benjamin-Steele-Tyzack, 1966-1967 London, Portland Gallery, Michael Tyzack, May â€“ June 2009, cat. no.4 (illustrated in colour, p.17)
ALAN DAVIE (1920-2014) is one of Britain’s most internationally recognised 20th Century abstract artists. Renowned for his jewel-like intensity of colour, vehemently expressive brushwork and employment of mythic imagery. His paintings appear at once apocalyptic and triumphant. As a young man, Davie developed a love of the Arts and, following in his father’s artistic footsteps, he studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 1938-41, graduating with the award of a travelling scholarship. After the Second World War, Davie had his first solo show in Edinburgh and, in 1948, travelled to Italy with his new wife, Janet Gaul. It was here that Davie’s eyes were opened to the grace and solemn simplicity of Italian 14th and 15th Century art and where, during a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, he was confronted with the early work of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. This encounter was to mark a significant moment in Davie’s artistic development; inspiring the Scottish artist to paint on a much larger scale in a more spontaneous and expressive manner. Much of Davie’s work after this point was executed by standing above the canvas as he allowed chance to play its hand in the creative process. In 1956, Davie made his first trip to the United States where he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Catherine Viviano Gallery and was introduced to Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning. In addition to Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism, Davie developed his own unique form of expression as he was greatly inspired by spiritual imagery. Lifting symbolic passages from African and Oceanic Art as well as Zen Buddhism. His painting owes much to this affinity with Zen, which reaffirmed the significance of spontaneity and his belief that his art was not pure abstraction but rooted in symbolic meaning. Alan Davie's paintings are a complex, joyous celebration of creativity that combine the expressive freedom of abstraction with a wealth of signs, symbols and words. By his own reckoning, he was a painter, poet, jazz musician and jewellery designer and his work is now included in many prestigious institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Tate
Gallery. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art held a retrospective exhibition in 2000, which was followed by a survey held the following year at the Cobra Museum for Modern Art in the Netherlands. More recently, in 2003-2004, the Tate St. Ives exhibition Jingling Space celebrated Davie's significant contribution to painting. Alan Davie was appointed CBE in 1972 and elected a senior Royal Academician in 2012.
· · · JOHN HOYLAND (1934-2011) was a leading figure in 20th Century British abstract painting. His bold manipulation of colour, form and line to create a tangible materiality of space propelled his work to the forefront of his aesthetic field. Born in Sheffield in 1934, Hoyland studied at Sheffield School of Art from 1951-1956 and the Royal Academy from 1956 - 1960. Greatly inspired by The New American Painting exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1959, Hoyland made the transition to abstract painting in his final years as a student, with his final diploma presentation consisting entirely of abstract paintings. In 1960 and 1961 Hoyland was one of the youngest artists to exhibit in the Situation exhibitions alongside Harold and Bernard Cohen, William Turnbull, Gillian Ayres, Henry Mundy and Robyn Denny. His works of this period were primarily concerned with geometric forms and purity of painting. In the Autumn of 1961 the Whitechapel Gallery held an exhibition on Mark Rothko, which had a profound effect on Hoyland. The carefully constructed abstract paintings from the Situation exhibitions were soon to give way to a more sinuous and organic style of painting with a strong use of colour. Hoyland was fortunate enough to win the support of the curator at the Whitechapel Gallery, Bryan Robertson, who included Hoyland's paintings in the successful exhibition The New Generation in 1964. He also helped Hoyland win a travel bursary to New York where Hoyland met and visited the studios of Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. During his stay, he also met one of the leading critics of the time, Clement Greenberg, and those painters he was championing at the time, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski.
Returning to Britain, Hoyland continued to be supported by Robertson and took courage and inspiration from the work of Anthony Caro, who became a good friend. In 1967, he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery and two years later represented the United Kingdom, with Anthony Caro, at the 1969 Sao Paulo Biennale By the 1970's Hoyland was applying paint with a greater sense of vitality and freedom; in the tactile paintings from this period, the paint has been poured, splattered and applied with a palette-knife. Hoyland's paintings have continued to evolve into new phases, as Mel Gooding writes, ‘The roots of Hoyland's art lie in northern European expressionist colourism, and from the mid70s he followed his own predilections with absolute concentration each point he has maintained an unmistakable identity.’ John Hoyland was elected a Royal Academician in 1991, became Professor of Painting at the RA Schools in 1999 and held an extensive retrospective there in 1999.
· · · MERLYN EVANS (1910-1973) was an accomplished painter and print maker. Deeply affected by his Glaswegian upbringing, Evans developed a highly personal abstract style which, at its essence, directly engaged with life and its psychological, ethical and political concerns. Born in Cardiff but raised in Glasgow, Evans studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1927 – 1931. In 1932, he was awarded the Haldane Travelling Scholarship at the Royal College of Art, London, which included study visits to Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris and Italy. These experiences allowed Evans to meet and engage with his Parisian avant-garde contemporaries, such as Mondrian, Kandinsky, Giacometti, Ernst and Hayter. Their influence impacted on his work and, in 1936, Evans exhibited at the International Surrealist Exhibition, as part of the London Group. Evans later moved to South Africa to take up a teaching post in 1938 and enlisted in the Signals Company in the South African Army in 1942. Here he remained preoccupied by the European crisis, and his paintings made during this period make explicit reference to the economic depression and the atrocities of war.
In 1946 Evans moved back to London where his artistic career developed. He took up etching and aquatint and embarked on a distinguished printmaking career in parallel to his painting. In 1949 he was granted his first one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, where he later exhibited again throughout the early 1950s. In 1956, the Whitechapel Gallery held a retrospective of his work. Evans continued to exhibit regularly during the 1960s and, in 1963, took a studio in St. Ives for the summer where he went annually thereafter. The artistic community living and working in St. Ives presented him with a creative centre, collaboratively inspiring one another. In 1967, the Art Institute of Chicago presented Evans with a post as the exchange artist in residence and it was here that Evans was creating some of his finest work. He soon visited New York, where he met many of the American Expressionist titans, such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell. On his return to London in 1968, Marlborough Fine Art held a one-man exhibition for him, entitled Events and Abstractions, The Welsh Arts Council commissioned a triptych and in 1972 the Victoria and Albert Museum held an exhibition of his graphic work. Merlyn Evans was deeply read in psychology, philosophy, politics, mechanics, optics, and the history and techniques of art, as well as in modernist literature and contemporary poetry. All these aspects of his thought found expression in his work as an artist and as a writer and teacher.
· · · MICHAEL KIDNER (1917-2009) was a pioneer of Op art. After brushes with American Abstract Expressionism and The Bauhaus ideas, he began to develop his own distinctive style. His interests in mathematics, science and the theories of chaos are underpinned by a visual sensibility that runs throughout his work. Born in Northamptonshire, Michael Kidner read History and Anthropology at Cambridge University. While visiting his sister in the United States War broke out in Europe, resulting in
Kidner initially enrolling at Ohio State University, in 1940, to study Landscape Architecture but later joined the Canadian army and returned to England in 1946. As an artist, Kidner was almost entirely self-taught and had started painting landscapes as a holiday hobby. On a visit to Provence after the war he came across a summer school run by the artist and influential teacher André Lhôte. Later confessing that it was here that he first learned that a painted landscape is not a landscape, ‘So in other words, I stopped being an illusionistic painter…I distrusted illusionism, and I trusted the notion of construction.’ Kidner followed Lhôte to Paris, where he was introduced to Cubism and studied there until 1949. After which, after a short spell at Goldsmiths College, London, he worked as a theatre designer in the 1950s. His distinguished career included many honours, influential teaching posts, international group shows and one man exhibitions. Kidner had his first solo exhibition at St Hilda's College, Oxford, in 1959 and another in 1962 at the Grabowski Gallery. He was included in the Arts Council Systems exhibition (1972-73) and has had one man shows at the Serpentine Gallery (1984); Gallery Hoffman, Friedberg, Germany (1993); CICA Galleries New York (1990) and the Henry Moore Foundation (1997). However, his greatest recognition was as a pioneer of Op art. After 1965 The Responsive Eye exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, drew worldwide attention to the Op art movement. Kidner's translation of the dialogue between order and indeterminacy into a visual language has meant that his work - though founded in a rigorous intellectual approach to colour and form - also resonates emotionally: 'Unless you read a painting as a feeling then you don't get anything at all'. He was elected a Royal Academician in 2004 and his works are now in many important collections, including those of the Tate Gallery, London, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Buenos Aires, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon.
· · ·
JOHN PLUMB (1927-2008) is recognised as one of the most significant of the Post-War abstract artists. His contribution of ‘colour-field’ canvases and ‘tape paintings’ are examples of his innovative, progressive and inspired contribution to British painting. Born in Luton, Plumb showed a natural affinity to art from an early age. He secured a junior position at Vauxhall Motors in their design department, an experience that would come to inform both his own work and his approach to art-making in general throughout his life. Plumb studied at Luton School of Art (1942-45), the private Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing in London (194850) and, finally, at the Central School of Art and Design (195255). His teachers included the likes of Anthony Gross, Victor Pasmore, William Turnbull and Keith Vaughan all of whom recognised Plumbs confidence in handling a pen and pencil and in his considerable technical skill. Plumb's success came relatively quickly. He was soon represented in the A.I.A. abstract exhibitions of 1953 and 1957 and the Situation exhibitions of 1960 and 1961, alongside Bridget Riley, William Turnbull and Robyn Denny. Plumb had his first solo show at the trend-setting Gallery One, in 1958, after which he showed at Marlborough, Axiom and Arnolfini Galleries. Plumb was ‘primarily concerned with liberating colour as an emotional factor’. This ambition led him to create some of his greatest work; the ‘colour-field’ paintings filling large-scale canvases with colour, creating formal tensions and optical interest and his geometric, hard-edged ‘Tape Paintings’. Plumb taught thought out his life, returning to teach at Luton School of Art (1955-61), Maidstone College of Art (1961-66) and Bennignton College, Vermont (1968-69) before returning to London as a Senior Lecturer in Painting at the Central School of Art and Design (1969-82). He later contributed to other significant exhibitions, such as British Painting at the Hayward Gallery, 1974, The Sixties Art Scene in London at The Barbican in 1993 and the Tate's more recent show in 2004, Art and the '60s: This was Tomorrow.
Plumb's works reflect his admiration for American Color Field painting and hard-edge painting. Though his early successes were all too short lived his reputation as one of the most convincing abstract painters of his generation remains true.
· · · VERA SPENCER (B.1926) contributed to many of the most forward thinking and ground-breaking exhibitions of the early 1950s and was allied with many of the emerging groups of the time including the Constructivist Group, the Independent Group and the Modern Movement.
Festival Hall exhibition in 1955. During the late 1950's Spencer's interest in collage took a new direction and she began combining printed ephemera and typography with the principles of fine art painting. In 1964, Vera's work was included in the highly acclaimed Cinquante ans de collages; papier colles, assemblages, collages, du Cubisme a nos jours, at the Musée d'Art et d'Industrie in Saint-Étienne, confirming her place as an innovative and influential modern day artist. Vera Spencer currently lives in west London.
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Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1926, Spencer moved to the UK with her family in 1936. She married Herbert Spencer, the British graphic designer, and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and Central School of Textile Design between 1946 and 1949.
MALCOLM HUGHES (1920-1997) was a British Constructivist artist, celebrated for his founding contribution to the Systems Group. During a time of individualism, Hughes sought to foster collective strategies for the production and display of works of art.
Spencer exhibited in the very first post-war exhibitions devoted to non-figurative art, Abstract Paintings, Sculptures and Mobiles, at the Artists International Association in London in 1951. Following this Spencer exhibited alongside Terence Conran, Roger Hilton, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Scott in the 1953 3rd Week Exhibition, at Adrian Heath's studio on 22 Fitzroy Street. In Toni del Renzio's review, the critic observed that Spencer 'dominates the exhibition with her efficient and wholly charming collage.'
Hughes was born in Manchester and, having completed war service as a radio operator in the Royal Navy, he studied at Manchester Regional College of Art. Hughes later continued his studies at the Royal College of Art in London. Initially influenced by British abstract artists of the 1950s, he gradually developed his own constructive style, which was displayed in his first solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1965.
The early 1950s were a prodigiously productive period for Spencer. She exhibited alongside luminaries of the day at the 1951 Festival of Britain and with Gimpel Fils British Abstract Art, Galerie Arnaud Trois Peintres in Paris and then again with the AIA Gallery The Mirror and the Square at the New Burlington Galleries in 1952. In 1954, Spencer exhibited at The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; at Victor Pasmore and Kenneth Martin's Artist versus Machine at Building Centre, London, and with the Palais de Beaux Arts in Paris Collages - where she was most notably hailed as one of the dominant influences in the renaissance of collage by the eminent art historian Herta Wescher. Spencer’s links with Paris and friendships with Paule Vezelay and the Group Espace resulted in her joining their English branch and she soon exhibited alongside them and others at their Royal
Like most of his contemporaries, Hughes held several teaching posts, working in the School of Architecture at the Polytechnic of Central London, Bath Academy of Art and Chelsea School of Art, where he taught with John Ernest and Anthony Hill. In 1969, Hughes co-founded the Systems Group with Jeffrey Steele. The groups focus was centred upon meticulous craftsmanship to make reliefs and paintings, which, invariably, combined an underlying logic with an intense physical presence. These beliefs culminated in the Arts Council Systems exhibitions of 1972-73. From 1970 he taught at the Slade School of Art, running the influential graduate programme from 1973 – 1983. His first one man show with Annely Juda Fine Art was in 1977 and, between 1984 and 1989, he became a founding member of a group called Exhibiting Space.
According to Stephen Bann, writing in 1988 for Hughes’ one man show at Annely Juda: ‘Malcolm Hughes differs from most of his colleagues in the concrete and constructive tradition, to the extent that he underlines the ambiguous nature of the painted canvas which is both a physical object and a vehicle of pictorial space.’ His work is now included in a number of prestigious collections, including at the Tate, Warwick University, Manchester City Art Gallery, and the British Council.
· · · MICHAEL TYZACK (1933 – 2007) was a leading figure in the development of British Abstraction during the 1960s and 1970s. A British painter and printmaker recognised for his colour-happy Geometric abstraction. Born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Tyzack studied from 1952 to 1956 at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. A contemporary of William Scott and Patrick Heron, Tyzack was taught by an illustrious list of figures, such as William Townsend, Victor Pasmore, Lucian Freud and Sir William Coldstream. In 1956, he received a scholarship for a residency in Paris, however returned a year later and became an active jazz musician in addition to his painting. This passion for Jazz can be seen in many of his paintings titles. Tyzack won first prize in the prestigious John Moores' Liverpool Exhibition in 1965 and, in 1968, he was a participant of the fourth 'documenta' in Kassel, with six geometric-abstract paintings. Tyzack showed with, among others, Bridget Riley, and at galleries including Mappin Art Gallery, Betty Parsons Gallery, Richard Demarco and Abbot Hall. He is represented in numerous prestigious collections worldwide and was included in Tate Liverpool's Formal Situations: Abstractions in Britain, 1960-70 in 2003. His work has been exhibited in over 50 group exhibitions in the UK and in France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy, Brazil, Australia and Canada. Michael Tyzack was a Fine Art teacher in the UK and North America and was a professor at the College of Charleston from 1976 to 2007 until his death.
PORTLAND GALLE RY