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a significant development from the American artists’ work. The nature of that development is apparent in Lost to Sight. As in Another Place, the canvas is divided into distinct zones. On the left of the painting a dark column rises vertically within a constricting channel. Like the related column shapes in Another Place, this monolithic figure comprises a series of thickly painted arcs, here enmeshed to form a single entity. At its base there is a small, intimate, arched aperture. On the right of the picture linear brushstrokes describe a doorlike opening containing inward-pointing shapes suggestive of teeth or thorns. These two ‘figures’ confront each other across a yawning expanse of black space. In contemplating this image, as well as other recent paintings by Beattie, the viewer senses the peculiar individual character of each of these formal inventions. Some are bold and aggressive, others seem passive and fragile, even ghostly. Often these motifs appear intriguingly familiar: doors, ladders and towers are implied. Other shapes are more elusive, less recognisable. But always these elements are so strongly defined, and their presence so convincingly asserted, that the effect is that of protagonists enacting a visual drama. It is this suggestion of an enigmatic underlying narrative - alien to earlier exponents of painterly abstraction, but potent in Beattie’s painting - which sets his work apart. In this way Beattie’s art is founded on a paradox. Essentially abstract, it nevertheless resonates with references to the visible world. The key to this paradox is Beattie’s observation that his art seeks to ‘give an emotional and psychological weighting to formal strategies’. This aim, which realises its fullest expression in the recent paintings, has been a fundamental concern from the beginning of his work. During the late 1960s, Beattie made a number of large-scale paintings using paint poured and stained onto their surfaces. The resulting images - huge, wall-like edifices of colour were not, however, abstractions from nature. Rather than imitating the appearance of the natural world, these works were entirely abstract images whose qualities of vast scale and saturated colour formed an equivalent for similar phenomena in nature. Significantly, at this relatively early stage Beattie recognised in these paintings the capacity of abstract forms to express intimate experiences of a emotional and psychological kind. 56

This idea paved the way for Beattie’s subsequent realisation that abstract shapes and marks could express complex subjective experiences with greater potency if these formal elements took on some of the characteristics of recognisable objects. This notion is of fundamental importance in the development of his art. His approach rests, in part, on the theory that spontaneous, non-representative mark-making directly expresses subjective experiences. The artist’s inner life is encoded in the movement and substance of the paint. In this respect his paintings are, as he has explained, ‘process driven’. But, at the same time, Beattie’s art goes beyond ‘pure’ abstraction because it asserts that non-imitative images can communicate these experiences to the viewer in a more profound way when visual echoes of those images are to be found in the real world. To this end Beattie has evolved a rich vocabulary of formal inventions - pictogram-like abstractions - which recur throughout his paintings. The first of these, a ‘half-ziggurat’, originated in Present Bound 1990. The ziggurat form relates to the towers of ancient Babylon whose distinctive architectural shape comprised staged blocks rising to a point, each storey smaller than the one below it. This motif carries intense personal significance for Beattie. In his paintings it takes the form of individual cell-like shapes, painted broadly and in a raw, spontaneous manner, piled up in an isosceles triangle configuration. It was the central motif of the Witness series which occupied Beattie in the early 1990s and it reappears in Two of a Kind 1995, exhibited here. The image is a relic of Beattie’s earlier way of working, during the mid-1980s, when he compartmentalised the entire surface of his paintings into separate cells. Each of these cells contained individual ideographic shapes. Subsequently, Beattie broke down this all-over composition, preserving a few cell-shapes, which reformed themselves as a single figure. The half-ziggurat is a key example of Beattie’s ability to invest an abstract, formal device with physical and psychological presence. Typically it sits on the bottom edge of the picture space, an isolated figure within the surrounding space. Charged with anthropomorphic implications, the halfziggurat becomes a poignant expression of solitude. In Two of a Kind the half-ziggurat is presented within a darkened, somewhat sombre space. This is also occupied by a smaller

Basil Beattie LARGE WORKS 1986 2009  

Bail Beattie Large Paintings and Installations

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