Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy

14 November 2016 § Leave a comment

Abstract Expressionism was a watershed moment in the evolution of 20th-century art, yet, remarkably, there has been no major survey of the movement since 1959.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock

It is a movement that has been tainted with the political interference of the American Government who sought to position the movement, and by association, the country at the heart of creative and artistic world during the cold war (excellent Independent feature here. Were we all ‘conned’ in to believing that these artists were better or more interesting than they perhaps really were?

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock David Smith

Most emphatically the answer is no. This glorious exhibition should be an eye opener to those who have grown up with a predominance of conceptual, performance and installation art and the idea that painting was deeply unfashionable.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Mark Rothko

The Royal Academy looks at this the “age of anxiety” surrounding the Second World War and the years of free jazz and Beat poetry, artists like Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning broke from accepted conventions to unleash a new confidence in painting.

The scale of the works was a revelation as was their intense spontaneity. At other times they are more contemplative, presenting large fields of colour that border on the sublime. These radical creations redefined the nature of painting, and were intended not simply to be admired from a distance but as two-way encounters between artist and viewer.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Arshile Gorky

The exhibition begins wth some fascinating early smalls scale works from the major players, followed by a room dedicated to Arshile Gorky, an acknowledged forerunner of the movement.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock

The largest gallery is given over to Jackson Pollock with an impressive display of some rarely lent works.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Clifford Still

‘Gesture as Colour’ is the theme of another room that is once again full rarely lent works. This time by Clyfford Still who employs great fields of colour to evoke dramatic conflicts between man and nature taking place on a monumental scale.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Franz Kline

For ‘The Violent Mark’ we get some fabulous canvases from Franz Kline, before other rooms largely filled with Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Willem de Kooning

Right through the exhibition a series of fine David Smith sculptures effectively tie the rooms together and provide respite from the huge canvases. Appropriately he often said “I belong with the painters” and considered that his work was painting rendered in 3D.

Sadly however, historically peripheral and unfairly overlooked figures remain that way. The RA offers no insightful re-assesment of these artists, especially female. The suspicion remains of establishment misogny and a movement whose defining elements are frozen in time and too well established to even be discussed.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Janet Sobel

We have one abstraction by Janet Sobel, who may have influenced Pollock, there are few by Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife, whose career was long overshadowed by his. Joan Mitchell is only represented in passing.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Joan Mitchell

Despite this minor criticism this is a tremendous exhibition providing a long overdue look at a movement that has has rather unfairly been deemed unfashionable. Don’t miss.

For more information visit www.royalacademy.org.uk

Agnes Martin at Tate Modern, London

16 November 2015 § Leave a comment

My paintings have neither objects nor space nor time nor anything – no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form. 
Agnes Martin, 1966

Agnes Martin is not for everyone. In sharp contrast to the eye-popping bling of the current The World Goes Pop exhibition a few yards away on the same level of Tate Modern (reviewed here) this is art that is understated and serene. There is nothing here that is brash or demands attention, and its appreciation requires a willingness to take a deep breath and slowly take in what the artist has to offer.

Agnes Martin Tate Modern

It is however well worth the time and effort. Agnes Martin’s art is about the search for sublime beauty and serenity, she herself states that “art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings.”

Agnes Martin Tate Modern

Working in the second half of the 20th Century, her early career covered the era when Abstract Expressionism was overtaken by Minimalism. She is often considered as a pivot between the two – her fine-lined grids, bands and square blocks of pale color fusing the emotional resonance of the former with the sparce purity of the latter.

Agnes Martin Tate Modern

The show is laid out chronologically, and begins with her highly derivative early “biomorphic” works reminiscent of artists like Joan Miró and Mark Rothko. Seeing her work in Taos in 1957, the dealer Betty Parsons however saw something in Martin’s talent and persuaded her to move to New York.

Agnes Martin Tate Modern

It was here she fraternised with, and was influenced by, artists like Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, and Robert Rauschenberg in the hot-bed of art that was the Lower East side at that time. She made sculptural assemblages using found objects such as boat spikes and nails and began to depict simple geometric forms such as squares, rectangles and circles as well as a range of linear marks and dots, often repeated across the surface.

Agnes Martin Tate Modern

By the early 1960s, Martin’s geometric compositions had evolved into what would later be seen as her signature style: the square grid. The beauty in this simplicity is seen in works like Friendship – where gold leaf is incised to produce a grid of tiny rectangles. Referring to these paintings, the critic Lucy Lippard described them as ‘legendary examples of an unrepetitive use of a repetitive medium’.

Agnes Martin Tate Modern

By 1967 however, fighting against mental illness, Martin left New York in search of solitude and settled in New Mexico for a self-imposed five year break from painting. When she did start again the grids are replaced by horizontal lines, and the darker tones by palest pink, blue and yellow. The colours are evocative of nature: sunsets, light through the mist, rocks in the sun.

Agnes Martin Tate Modern

Shown together in their own room here are The Islands I-XII  – a spellbinding series of 12 near white paintings from 1979 that Martin considered a single piece These paintings can be seen as Martin’s most silent works and invite concentrated looking over time in order to see their fine lines and subtly nuanced surfaces.


The works convey a contemplative quality, indicating Martin’s interest in East Asian philosophy, and spirituality however knowing about Martin’s schizophrenia it is also clear that this calmness was hard won – the result of a deep inner battle.

Agnes Martin Tate Modern

Agnes Martin is at Tate Modern until 11 October 2015

Images by Tate and CELLOPHANELAND*

John Hoyland: Power Stations Paintings at Newport Street Gallery

16 November 2015 § Leave a comment

The Newport Street Gallery is the culmination of a long stated Damien Hirst ambition – a desire to publicly show his private collection. It may also be part of an additional desire to prove that an artist can also be a gallerist and curator. Hirst of course broke the mould in 1988 as one of the main mover and shakers behind the notorious Freeze exhibition, where he helped gather together a group of his Goldsmiths art College contemporaries, many of whom later became known as the young British artists (yBa’s).

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com
He has then since collected several thousand pieces for his ‘Murderme’ collection with the eventual aim of its public display. He states “I believe art should be experienced by as many people as possible and I’ve felt guilty owning work that is stored away in boxes where no one can see it. Having a space where I can put on shows from the collection is a dream come true… I couldn’t be happier.”

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

John Hoyland is perhaps surprising as a choice for the inaugural exhibition at the new space as he and Hirst are not at first glance natural bedfellows. Hoyland, one of Britains foremost abstract (he preferred the term non-figurative) painters, was notoriously anti-conceptual and also felt that artists should be very much ‘hands-on’ and physically creating their own work. Despite Hirst being the antithesis of Hoyland’s ideals the two however became friends with Hirst steadily purchasing dozens of his works.

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

And what an exhibition it is. Over thirty works pop and sparkle like jewels over the half a dozen airy ‘rooms’ set over two floors. This is a perfect venue for Hoyland’s works, the ‘white cube’ warehouse space a fine foil for the oversized canvases with their gloriously vivid blocks of colour.

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

Hoyland ‘discovered’ colour in the south of France in the fifties and in the early sixties was heavily influenced by American Abstract Expressionism, having visited New York to seek out artists like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. It is these influences from which Hoyland forged his own path and from this time that the first works in this exhibition were painted.

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

Arranged largely chronologically we begin with pieces from the sixties – the first room full of vivid red works, the second bright green ones. They are clearly heavily Rothko and Newman influenced, with expansive colour fields – the very earliest like 17.5.64 including biomorphic shapes, which in slightly later works have evolved in to roughly delineated colour blocks or columns. Rather than being flat though, there is a sculptural dimension with influence from his sculptor friend, Anthony Caro.

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

As we move onwards (and upwards) the soft edges of the colour fields harden whilst surface texture increases. In works like 29.12.66 greys appear, whilst in others there are more colours, diagonals and bolder forms make a more graphic statement.

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

One rather different work 23.2.71 painted in a pale pink and gold comes from a short period in the early seventies spent in his Wiltshire studio where he used a more delicate palette, but it was not long before he was back to powerful blues and reds alongside other strong colours in works like 29.3.80.

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

Using diverse means of application these forceful compositions include strong diagonals and fractured patches of colour in heavily textured paint.

Newport Street Gallery John Hoyland Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 Exhibition review on www.CELLOPHANELAND.com

Perhaps Hirst has selected Hoyland to avoid the more obvious selection of works from fellow yBa’s for example or perhaps he feels an affinity between this sculptural use of colour and his own spot and spin paintings. In any case this is a successful show in a truly wonderful space. Hopefully soon we can follow a Newport Street Gallery visit with a meal in Pharmacy2 due to open on the top floor in 2016.

John Hoyland: Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 is at Newport Street Gallery until 3rd April 2016.

For further information, visit: http://www.newportstreetgallery.com

All images by CELLOPHANELAND* and Newport Street Gallery.

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