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THRESHOLD.YIELDING DOOR. SMALLNESS STIRS. EMMA HILL

“A nigh perfect building, the Pantheon, allows the sun in its declination to pass an ellipse of light through the oculus … thereby describing an arc about the inside of the dome. This arc illumines and is changed by the local detail: the coffering and architraves from which the gods have fled.” 1

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n 1987 Basil Beattie exhibited three large paintings in a solo exhibition at the Curwen Gallery, London. Before beginning the work he had measured a downstairs space and sized his stretchers to the maximum dimensions that could sit on the walls, a few inches clear of the floor. The canvases were the same height and when installed read as a kind of wrap-around frieze. Acutely sensitive to architectural parameters and how they affect the readings of paintings, it seemed a deliberate move on Beattie’s part to fill the room with a mass of painted hieroglyphs. The installation was urgent and claustrophobic, holding the viewer within an internalised, almost hermetic, space. The paintings bombarded the eye with sensation, erupting, as the artist Marcus Harvey would later describe ‘into skirmishes and boundary disputes’2 between gestures, layers, densities, textures, drips, erosions and absences of paint. Loosely suggested grids held ‘units’ of the surface, each of which was filled with different kinds of marks and signs. Calligraphic sweeps of paint suggested language characters. Simple pictograms read as ladders, towers or arches. Earthy colours coalesced at moments to suggest a primitive lexicon of pictorial imagery, both architectural and organic. 22

Basil Beattie LARGE WORKS 1986 2009  

Bail Beattie Large Paintings and Installations

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