Antony Donaldson / Of memory and oblivion

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ANTONY DONALDSON OF MEMORY AND OBLIVION



ANTONY DONALDSON OF MEMORY AND OBLIVION


‘You don’t have to say you love me’ Marco Livingstone Like Tom Wesselmann and Mel Ramos in the USA, and Allen Jones in the UK, Tony Donaldson has concentrated throughout his career not just on the human figure – an unusual enough subject for Pop artists – but specifically on a sexualised presentation of the female body. Creating those first images in a spirit of liberation, as a rejection of the constraints and hypocrisy that still held sway during the 1950s, all these artists found themselves at times at the receiving end of criticism for their supposed objectification of women. Donaldson’s representations of women, in those early days as much as in the new paintings featured here, which specifically hark back to his works of the first half of the1960s, are undoubtedly voluptuous and sexually alluring, but their fresh and simplified stencilled silhouettes in sweet colours exude a certain innocence that distances them from any overt lasciviousness. The frequent repetition of their forms, often in pairs, gives them the simplicity and steady beat of early rock’n’roll and of the plaintive and melodious pop music of the early 1960s. ‘Fun, fun, fun’, as in the refrain of the irresistible Beach Boys hit, could well be taken as their slogan. Now in his early seventies, Donaldson, like many artists conscious of entering their ‘late period’, seems intent for the moment on revisiting and re-engaging with the paintings he made in his early twenties. Quoting from Marcel Proust’s Days of Reading, Donaldson remarks that the novelist’s words seem to reflect ‘exactly how I see and feel at this moment’: You see, I believe that it is really only to involuntary memories that the artist should go for the raw material of his work. First, precisely because they are involuntary and take shape of their own accord, drawn by the

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resemblance of some identical moment, they alone bear the hallmark of authenticity. Then they bring things back to us in exact proportions of memory and oblivion. Perhaps there is an element in this of holding on to his youth, and there is an undoubted period flavour, stopping just short of nostalgia, in the poses struck by the shapely and perfectly wrinkle-free women who disport themselves with such evident delight across the surface of these pictures. The stencilled images, as he is the first to point out, are explicitly derived from pin-ups of the 1950s and 1960s, and as such they are ‘rather genteel, not blatant’. Any teenager surfing the net today would very easily discover far more assertively sexual, not to say pornographic, depictions. By contrast with such pervasively harsh contemporary images, those favoured here by Donaldson seem gently sensuous and delicately erotic, rather wistful in reminding us of another age. The connections between these new works and those made half a century before can be understood through Donaldson’s choice of imagery focussing on female nudes, in his rendering of those figures in terms of interlocking flat shapes, in the simplification of forms and removal of facial features that transform the figures into abstracted signs, and in his delight in the repetition of motifs within the surface of a single work and from one picture to the next. ‘Placing two repeated images on the same canvas,’ he explains, ‘creates a different set of tensions in each corner. The single image paintings in the show are the starting points for the more complex paintings.’ The recent paintings on display here, which have been made at his studio in southern France between October 2014 and June 2015, clearly and self-consciously hark back to some of the pictures with which Donaldson first made his name, such as Three Pictures of You (Walker


Art Gallery, Liverpool) and Summershot (Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon). They all make play on recurring images of naked or near-naked beauties that float across brightly hued and highly decorative abstract grounds. The device of repeated forms that seem on first glance to be identical, but that on closer inspection reveal their differences, reinforces the sense of these paintings as hallucinatory visions that fill the senses with colour, light and tactile painterly gestures. As a young painter, Donaldson, like other Pop artists, had been keen to expunge visible brushwork and other signs of hand-painting in order to create seamlessly flat images that appeared simply to have arrived effortlessly on the surface. However much he delighted in the sensuous beauty of the paint, the impulse was to mimic the bold effects of posters, signs, advertisements and other mass-produced printed pictures. Knowingly beautiful handling (what the French referred to as ‘belle peinture’), or the bold gestures favoured by the American Abstract Expressionists as authentic signs of the self, were for him and many of his peers no longer desirable. Those methods seemed to them to be too obviously artistic, too absorbed with the romantic cult of personality, to be capable of persuading us any longer of their truthfulness or, indeed, of equalling the impact of the photographic or printed images bearing down on us through the mass media. ‘Looking back at my paintings from 50 years ago.’ comments Donaldson, ‘I find it interesting to be tackling some of the same problems but from a different place.’ The motifs foregrounded in the new paintings, for example, may resemble those of the pictures from the early 1960s, which were based on found material extracted from Playboy and other magazines of the time, but now he finds it more natural to discover the images he requires from the plentiful supply on the world-wide web. So it is that in other

ways, too, he feels free to return to the concepts he had proposed soon after his student days, but to reshape them in ways that might seem not just ‘different’ but contrary to some of the tenets of those works. This is nowhere more evident than in his decision to apply the paint with the vigorous gestures and bold strokes, or with the caresses of superimposed glazes, that he had so deliberately eliminated from his paintings of the 1960s. The sharp edges defining the stencilled figures somehow hold this passion in check, while also giving the artist permission to make whatever marks he wishes through and across those forms. Warhol’s paintings had undergone a similar transformation in his works of the mid-1970s through to his death in 1987, in his case with the screenprinting of photographic images providing the ‘rational’ counterbalance to the expressive randomness of the broad, obviously hand-painted brushstrokes over which he printed his photo-mechanical images. It is not just to his very early work that Donaldson has looked in planning the new paintings. Strategies devised for his ‘French paintings’ of 2005-7, which he exhibited in London in early 2008, proved particularly helpful. For those paintings, all based on Ingres’ Turkish Bath, he had returned to a technique he had first used in a painting of 1962-3, Taking the Plunge, cutting out the shapes that create the entire composition so that they can be painted separately and then interchanged, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, from one work to another. The procedure has served him well for those paintings made in 2014-15 on plywood or laser-cut MDF (medium density fibreboard), particularly for the patterns of geometric shapes painted in strong, flat colours and overlaid in a crisscross pattern. The cut-out elements can be moved around not only within the surface of a single painting, but also from painting to painting, giving the artist great latitude in experimenting intuitively with different

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colour combinations. A similar technique, adapted to collage, is used for the works on paper, while the works painted on canvas provide the opportunity to work more freely. Whatever the final form, each of the new works starts with a hand-drawn image, which is then redrawn on a computer as a CAD (computer-assisted design) image that can be transferred electronically to the fabricators who are then able to cut them out precisely for him to paint on. The figures are painted with stencils, as has been the case for him since as far back as 1962, which gives him a great degree of control over the final configuration. Thanks to the computer technology, Donaldson is now able to have the same stencils remade perfectly for subsequent use. By slightly separating the ‘male’ and ‘female’ components of the stencils, so that their edges do not meet precisely, he is able to vary the width of the contours, and even to suggest shading to give volume to the figure, in ways that he finds visually appealing.

Floating past, 2014, Acrylic on board, 73 x 73 cm

Are these paintings to be understood as a refinement or reinterpretation of Pop Art for the 21st century? Artists tend to be healthily disrespectful of labels, and Donaldson has always proceeded by instinct rather than to a conceptual agenda, so it seems unlikely that he would choose to work programmatically – though of course he is aware of his own history, and unlike some of his colleagues he has never been embarrassed to be called Pop. Perhaps the best way of looking at these new pictures art historically is to recognise that he is deliberately but unselfconsciously embracing his past with a carefree affection, an impulse that some viewers might also experience when looking at these pictures. The painterliness of surface exaggerates the sense of sensuous physicality and outright fleshiness that take the language of Pop away from its ‘cool’ associations into more passionate Keep still, 2014-5, Acrylic on board, 30 x 30 cm

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territory. The choice of titles further encourages poetic and associative readings, as in the case of Floating past, a phrase that one could interpret as describing either the outlined figures that seem to hover above the surface like a mirage or the scumbled pink paint marks that suggest clouds at sunset against a limpid blue sky. Yet the blunt straightforwardness that characterised early Pop, and that at the time affronted some sensitive viewers, is no less present than before. The title of another picture, Keep still, might at first be taken as a whimsical instruction to the model (who is after all purely a pictorial construction, not a real person) to hold her pose so that she can be accurately observed; as a phrase, however, it also simply describes the static quality of the shape presented to our attention. The attributes and imagery of Donaldson’s Pop language of the early 1960s – flatness, schematic simplification, repetition and intimations of board games, graphic design and photography – remain defiantly intact. Donaldson was well aware that other Pop artists, including Warhol, and their post-Pop progeny, such as Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, have encountered legal problems in using images from the public domain. Since he was intent on avoiding any possible copyright issues when working from images off the internet, he photoshopped them into photo-collages that rendered each figure as a combination of features from different sources, rendering their origins invisible and making them unrecognisable. Most of the paintings in this series were completed before he had given a title to a single one, or come up with the title for the exhibition, so he toyed with the idea of acknowledging the situation at least by insinuation. It does not look like me at all, representing the same busty and curvaceous female twice in an identical pose within a mysterious nocturnal atmosphere – her nudity emphasized by the white high heels she wears,

It doesn’t look like me at all, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 121 x 121 cm

and her downturned gaze directing one’s attention to her ample breasts – is one such instance. He halfremembered some lines from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’, which he thought could allude amusingly to this deliberate ploy and as a rebuke to the expectations the viewer might have, in looking at paintings of people, about the capturing of a likeness: So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll I’m very sorry, baby, doesn’t look like me at all It is a song of the 1960s made famous by Dusty Springfield, however, that surfaced in my mind when looking at these paintings: ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’. The women in these pictures, though seen as objects of desire, are of course nothing but figments of the artist’s imagination. They expect nothing from him, nor from us, other than adulation or at least the

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Antony Donaldon in his studio, 2015

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joy of looking, and in return they promise nothing more than the pleasure of companionship. As Dusty sang beautifully to legions of fans struggling to make out the second half of the line, ‘You don’t have to say you love me, just be close at hand’. And that, after all, is what Donaldson offers the viewer through these seductive, affirmative paintings. No grand pronouncements, no big theories or intellectual concepts, just a simple statement of some of the things that make life worth living, and that one appreciates more and more the older one gets: love, desire, companionship and pleasure.

Biographical note Antony Donaldson (born London, 1939) came to prominence in 1962 as part of the first wave of the young generation of British Pop painters, almost immediately on his graduation from the Slade School of Fine Art; his exact contemporaries at the more Pop-oriented Royal College of Art included David Hockney, Allen Jones, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips. His first solo exhibition in 1963, the first of many at the Rowan Gallery until its closure in the 1980s, led to his participation in the historic New Generation exhibition curated by Bryan Robertson at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1964 and to his inclusion in early books and survey exhibitions on Pop Art. In recent years he has featured in numerous major historical overviews of British and international Pop Art, including The Pop ‘60s: Transatlantic Crossing (Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, 1997), Pop Art UK (Galleria Civica di Modena, 2004), British Pop Art (Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, 2005) and When Britain went Pop (Christie’s, London, 2013).

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PLATES


On the other hand 2014 Acrylic on laser cut paper 78 x 78 cm 30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

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Across the border 2014 Acrylic on laser cut board 78 x 78 cm 30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

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Somewhere a Band is playing 2014 Acrylic on laser cut board 78 x 78 cm 30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

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Where the light is strong 2014 Acrylic on laser cut paper 78 x 78 cm 30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

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Do nothing til you hear from me 2014 Acrylic on laser cut paper 78 x 78 cm 30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

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Floating past 2014 Acrylic on board 73 x 73 cm 28 3/4 x 28 3/4 inches

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Keep still 2014 Acrylic on board 36 x 36 cm 14 1/8 x 14 1/8 inches

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Just like that 2014 Acrylic on board 36 x 36 cm 14 1/8 x 14 1/8 inches

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‘Round midnight 2015 Acrylic on board 53.5 x 53.5 cm 21 x 21 inches

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Night Flyer 2014 Acrylic on board 36 x 36 cm 14 1/8 x 14 1/8 inches

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Zu Zu Mamou 2015 Acrylic on board 36 x 36 cm 14 1/8 x 14 1/8 inches

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It does not look like me at all 2015 Acrylic on canvas 121 x 121 cm 47 5/8 x 47 5/8 inches

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Don’t write everything down 2015 Acrylic on canvas 121 x 121 cm 47 5/8 x 47 5/8 inches

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Between the lines 2015 Acrylic on canvas 121 x 121 cm 47 5/8 x 47 5/8 inches

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LIST OF WORKS

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p13

On the other hand

p21

Do nothing til you hear from me

2014

2014

Acrylic on laser cut paper

Acrylic on laser cut paper

78 x 78 cm

78 x 78 cm

30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

p15

Across the border

p23

Floating past

2014

2014

Acrylic on laser cut board

Acrylic on board

78 x 78 cm

73 x 73 cm

30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

28 3/4 x 28 3/4 inches

p17

Somewhere a band is playing

p25

Keep still

2014

2014-5

Acrylic on laser cut board

Acrylic on board

78 x 78 cm

30 x 30 cm

30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches

p19

Where the light is strong

p27

Just like that

2014

2014

Acrylic on laser cut paper

Acrylic on board

78 x 78 cm

30 x 30 cm

30 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches

11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches


p29

‘Round midnight

p37

Don’t write everything down

2015

2015

Acrylic on board

Acrylic on canvas

53.5 x 53.5 cm

121 x 121 cm

21 x 21 inches

47 5/8 x 47 5/8 inches

p31

Night Flyer

p39

Between the lines

2014

2015

Acrylic on board

Acrylic on canvas

30 x 30 cm

121 x 121 cm

11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches

47 5/8 x 47 5/8 inches

p33

Zu Zu Mamou

2014-5

Acrylic on board

30 x 30 cm

11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches

p35

It does not look like me at all

2015

Acrylic on canvas

121 x 121 cm

47 5/8 x 47 5/8 inches

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SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

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1989

Mayor Rowan Gallery, London

1992

Galerie Daniel Gervis, Cannes

1963

Rowan Gallery, London

1999

Mayor Gallery, London

1965

Rowan Gallery, London

2004

Mayor Gallery, London

1966

Rowan Gallery, London

2007

Rocket Gallery, London

1968

Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles

2008

Paisnel Gallery, London

1968

Rowan Gallery, London

2009

Galerie du Centre, Paris

1970

Galerie von Loeper, Hamburg

2012

Mayor Gallery, London

1970

Rowan Gallery, London

2012

Galerie du Centre, Paris

1971

Galeria Milano, Milan

2012

Wolverhampton Art Gallery

1971

Galerie Muller, Cologne

1971

Folkwang Museum, Essen

1971

Galerie Richard Fonke, Ghent

1971

Galerie du Luxembourg, Paris

1958

Young Contemporaries, London

1972

Rowan Gallery, London

1959

Young Contemporaries, London

1973

Felicity Samuel Gallery, London

1960

Young Contemporaries, London

1973

Galerie du Luxembourg, Paris

1960

London Group, London

1976

Galerie du Luxembourg, Paris.

1961

Young Contemporaries, London

1977

J.P.L. Gallery, London

1962

Five Young Artists, Rowan Gallery, London

1977

Galerie du Luxembourg, Paris

1962

Young Contemporaries, London

1977

Felicity Samuel Gallery, London

1962

Artists of Promise, Midland Group, Nottingham

1979

Rowan Gallery, London

1962

Arts Council Touring Exhibition

1979

Galerie Alain Blondel, Paris

1963

The John Moores Open Competition, Walker Art

1981

Rowan Gallery, London

Gallery, Liverpool

1983

Bonython Gallery, Adelaide

1964

The New Generation, Whitechapel Art Gallery,

1983

Hogarth Galleries, Sydney

London

1984

Juda Rowan Gallery, London

1964

New Image, Arts Council Gallery, Belfast

1985

Galerie Daniel Gervis, Paris

1964

Pick of the Pops, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

1985

Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles

1965

4ème Biennale des Jeunes Artistes, Musée d’Art

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS


Moderne, Paris

1995

Post War to Pop, Whitford Fine Art, London

1965

Op and Pop, Riksforbundet for Bilande, Konst och

1997

Treasure Island, Foundation Calouste Gulbenkian,

San, Stockholm

Lisbon

1966

Harkness Fellows, The Leicester Galleries, London

1997

Pop Art 60, Transatlantic Crossing, Belem Cultural

1966

London under Forty, Galeria Milano, Milan

Centre, Lisbon

1967

Il Tempo del l’Imagine, Biennale Internazionale,

1999

Europop, Arken Museum, Denmark

Museo Civico, Bologna

2000

Mennesket, Arken Museum, Denmark

1967

Pittsburgh International, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh

2001

Royal Academy Summer Show, London

1967

Recent British Painting, The Peter Stuyvesant

2002

POP ART & CO, Belem Cultural Centre, Lisbon

Foundation, The Tate Gallery, London

2003

20th Century Masters, Mayor Gallery, London

1968

The New Generation, Interim Exhibition, Whitechapel

2004

Work from the Sixties, Mayor Gallery, London

Gallery, London

2004

Pop Art UK - British Pop Art 1956-1972, Galleria Civicia

1968

From Kitaj to Blake, Non-Abstract Art in Britain, The

di Modena, Italy

Bear Lane, Oxford

2004

Art & the 60’s This was tomorrow, Tate Britain; Gas

1969

New Art, Art Museum of Ateneum, Helsinki

Hall, Birmingham Museum

1969

Post 1945 Art in Britain, CALA Arts Centre, Cambridge

2004

POP ART & CO, the Berado Collection Bunkamura

1969

Art for Industry, Royal College of Art, London

Museum Tokyo, touring Japan 2004-2005

1970

Some Recent Art In Britain, Leeds City Art Gallery,

2005

Metamorphosis: British Art in the Sixties, Museum of

Contemporary Art Andros

Leeds 1970

The Slade 1871-1971, The Royal Academy, London

2005

British Pop, Bilboko Arte Eder Museoa, Bilbao

1974

Premier Salon International d’Art Contemporain,

2007

Pop Art 1956-1968, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome

Grand Palais, Paris

2008

New Generation Revisited, NewArtCentre, Roche

1978

Small Works, Newcastle Polytechnic Art Gallery

Court

1981

Gallery Artists, Rowan Gallery, London

2009

9 English Artists from the 60’s Together Again, Angers

1985

Small Works, Juda Rowan Gallery, London

2009

Nao te posso ver nem pintado, Berardo Museum,

1985

25 Years. Three Decades of British Art, Juda Rowan

Lisbon

Gallery, London

2009

Da Hartung a Warhol Collezione Cozzani, Centro

1987

British Pop Art, Birch and Conran Fine Art, London

Arte Moderna e Contemporanea della Spezia

1991

Gallery Artists, Mayor Rowan Gallery, London

2010

Abstraction and the Human Figure, Foundation

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Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon

Museum of Modern Art, New York

2010

As Dreamers Do, Foundation Calouste Gulbenkian,

Museu Regional de Arte da UEFS. Feira de Santana, Bahia, Brazil

Paris

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Ausralia

2011

Pure Epure, Galerie du Centre Paris

2011

Mysterious Objects, Santa Ana College, Los Angeles

2013

When Britain Went Pop, Christies, London

National Museum of Wales, Cardiff Olinda Museum, Brazil Orange County Museum of Art, California

COLLECTIONS

Southampton University Stuyvesant Foundation

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

The Tate Gallery, London

Arts Council of Great Britain

The Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Williams College and Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Irland

Berado Collection Sintra Museum of Modern Art, Portugal

University College, London

Bradford City Art Gallery

Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis

British Council

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

British Museum CaMEC, Collection Cozzani, La Spezia, Italy Contemporary Art Society, London Copelouzos Family Art Museum, Athens, Greece Ferrens Art Gallery, Hull Folkwang Museum, Essen, Germany Government Art Collection, London Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal Hedendaagse Kunst, Utrecht, Holland Leicester Education Authority

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THE MAYOR GALLERY since 1925 21 CORK STREET FIRST FLOOR LONDON W1S 3LZ T: +44 (0)20 7734 3558 F: +44 (0)20 7494 1377 info@mayorgallery.com www.mayorgallery.com Printed on the occassion of the exhibition ANTONY DONALDSON OF MEMORY AND OBLIVION 09 SEP - 09 OCT 2015 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publishers or copyright holders. Edition of 500 Introduction © Marco Livingstone Works © Antony Donaldson Photography © Antony Donaldson Photogeaph of the Artist © Patricia Marks Special thanks to Patricia Marks All dimensions of works are given height before width before depth The colour reproduction in this catalogue is representative only Design by Jamie Howell and Christine Hourdé Printed by Birch Print, Heritage House, DE7 5UD ISBN: 978-0-9927984-7-5

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