Following on from my last but one post Matthew Morrison Macaulay asks where did you first see an abstract expressionist’s painting, and what was your impressions of the photography that came from America of the artists studios or the artists at work in their studios? First I want to be ‘picky’ (probably the weather…) but I don’t like the term really and much prefer ‘the New York School’ (though of course that has as many contradictions too).
Goodness its a hard question. I do recall going to the Tate in 1969 (aged 17) to see the Art of the Real…by this time my wonderful art teacher the late Peter Thursby had introduced us by way of his personal copies of Studio International and Artforum (that with typical generosity circulated freely around the classroom) to artists such as O’Keefe, Kelly & Louis but it was the more minimalist works that had been included in this exhibition that really challenged me. The Stella’s, in particular Turkish Mambo a good example of the ‘black’ period and Six Mile Bottom, of the following metallics, were a knock out and had a profound influence on what I decided right then would be my touchstones once I got to college). In my head I think there were one or two more ‘black’ paintings in the show (I have an image of three of them in a row in mind) but the catalogue (link above) of the original MOMA show suggests not. And on that visit the Tate had recently acquired the first of the Seagram mural pictures but I suspect that, with Norman Reid in the process of sending the maquette of the room hang for the lot (probably around the time of my visit!) to Rothko, the ‘Rothko Room’ was not yet a reality. But that show did have a Rothko (see above), a Still, Reinhardt and a couple Newman’s in it…so they likely were my first encounters.
A year later I’m back in London first at the ICA for When Attitudes Become Form – an even more challenging show for an art student about to embark on their Diploma studies (about which I may write in future and glory be the whole catalogue is available here). And I think the Rothko room had been installed by then at the Tate? I do know that the following year they did a sensational Barnett Newman show. That catalogue contains some lovely ‘Barney in his studio’ shots but by then one of my prize possessions was a Reinhardt catalogue with those absolutely amazing photos of his NYC studio – pictures that cemented my idea of being the heroic New York loft artist as the pinnacle of desire!
it’s only right there should be a wee bit of reflection. This time around I reckon its now well over four decades since I decided I wanted to be a painter. That happened around the age of fourteen (though I’d been enjoying art more than anything else since junior school) when I won prizes in a local competition, met the inestimable Peter Thursby who guided and encouraged me (and many others) through secondary art education and saved up several months of pocket money to buy my first monograph (on Alan Davie). By eighteen I was well into production of oil paintings like that featured here – an odd amalgam of Sam Francis meets Rothko by way of Patrick Heron…well at least my tastes were eclectic!
By twenty two I knew it all…and now at 64 I wonder how I know so little…what the hell went wrong?!
It was a real pleasure to get into the studio today…not only did I resolve two of the large Conversation pieces to my satisfaction but I was able to take receipt of this generous gift of a painting by Arthur Goodwin. It came to me very fortuitously from Jill Langford to whom I am so grateful. Arthur was Vice-Principal at Exeter College of Art up to and including the period I spent there on Foundation studies. His son Paul and myself studied together in the art room at Hele’s School Exeter overseen by the wonderful teacher and distinguished sculptor Peter Thursby. I happened to mention this to Jill on a visit to her home a few years back…she is moving and downsizing so her collection requires a bit of pruning and she recalled our conversation and offered me this choice cutting! At the time I first saw it it was late and quite dark at her home…now I can study it carefully in good light it is particularly interesting to see that the work is painted on a cupboard door. One of the things about the picture I particularly like is the way in which the wood and its grain is used to good effect as both ground and surface incident. Interestingly I saw another work a year or so back in my curated show ‘Painting Too’ by Mathew Macaulay that in some ways provides an echo of this work..painted on a reclaimed timber with very loose painterly handling. Arthur painted his picture in 57/58 , under the influence of post War School of Paris though no doubt with a nod towards Abstract Expressionism from the States that was relatively still unfamiliar in those days in the UK. Matthew’s work was painted last year but I suspect the influences have similar echoes overlaid with a contemporary sensibility – another example for me of the inter-generational interaction I recently wrote about here.