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each ‘window’ consists of a schema derived from the elements of Albertian perspective with a horizon line, vanishing point and recessional vectors, elements that Beattie describes as having “simple, linear origins”. Each subsidiary part of the triptych, then, consists of a frame and, within it, the perspectival armature for a landscape vista, which, together, Beattie terms a ‘unit’. The elements of the perspective schema are present in different configurations from unit to unit, but the intuited sense of a featureless, barren plain stretching to the horizon remains a constant. But what has to be stressed about this description is the extent to which the evocation of landscape is entirely a conceptual construct derived from an interpretation of the perspectival schema: in effect we are presented with the ideogram of landscape in the Western tradition. It is entirely our familiarity with the schema as the armature of illusionistic space and recession, breaking the picture plane, which is responsible for the suggestion of a vista before us. In a complimentary way, the fact that each of the three units that make up the painting have a widescreen aspect-ratio similar to Paramount’s Vistavision cinematic projection system intensifies the evocation of vista. The conceptual elements of the notional landscape – horizon, vanishing point and recessional vectors – are worked through in what can best be described as a meditative assemblage and disassemblage of the perspectival elements, as though Beattie were testing the threshold at which illusion begins to take hold. The components of these elemental vistas emerge out of, and are worked into, what Beattie terms ‘floats’ of colour. As is to be expected with his paintings, the applied paint lies emphatically proud of the surface of the canvas; there is an unwavering insistence on paint’s materiality, its stuff-ness. And again, the elemental nature of the recessional plain is reinforced by a restricted palette that favours the archaic pigments, such as those of Umbria and Sienna, and only occasionally are these kinds of earthy colours played off against areas of brighter hue, very occasionally the kind of intense, jarring colours derived from industrially-produced synthetic pigments. As though a learnt habit of the abstractionist, Beattie ensures that the insistent materiality of the floats of paint is a counterpoint to the illusionistic potential of the perspective schema. Indeed, the first impression is that he intends that the two readings 116

should simply dissipate one another. Beattie makes no bones about the fact he is deploying the “known, familiar means” inherent to the logic of painting. To make this even clearer, the contradictory play between the notional transparency of the drawn perspectival elements and the opacity of the paint surface that he renders them in can be said to be a founding cliché of the condition of contemporary painting. Beattie is never less than realistic about cliché. He characterizes painting as “the ancient tradition of spreading stuff on…”. The description is left incomplete in acknowledgement that the description is in itself a cliché. Beattie plays this duality out in every aspect of the float of colour, ensuring that it falls short as it approaches the insistent framing of the windows of the paintings’ triptych structure. The resultant remnants of bare canvas between the vista-image of the float and the framing device are the most declarative of the range of painterly means Beattie uses to disrupt the illusionistic mechanisms inherent to landscape painting. Putting aside the matter of how the formal and technical elements of this illusion/materiality, transparency/opacity duality operate for a moment, there are clearly a series of other figurative associations that strike the viewer. The chief one is the intimation that the frame of the window might be a windscreen (its proportion and curved corners suggest this, as does the low horizon line), and the viewer is sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, looking out over the skeleton of a flat landscape, desert-like in a primordial sort of way. The shape of the frame has the equal capacity to suggest the car’s rear-view mirror, so we are able to imagine ourselves looking forwards and/or backwards with barely a perceptual flicker: the landscape can be thought of lying in wait to be traversed in the future, or as having been already traversed in the past, futures past. With these new figurative suggestions in mind the viewer can no longer have an entirely simultaneous experience of the triptych. Rather, we are reminded of that genre of early renaissance painting where several important moments of narrative – often involving a journey – are presented within a unified ground. An aim of such paintings is to depict the same principle character, or characters, portrayed in two or more sets of circumstances in different parts of the same landscape. In other words, the Janus series seems to require we place a second understanding

Basil Beattie LARGE WORKS 1986 2009  

Bail Beattie Large Paintings and Installations

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