Tag Archives: Ben Nicholson OM

Part Two: Abstract prints

How does the Alan Bowness quotation on page 22 (of our workbooks) relate to your experience of abstract painting? What elements are missing from this writing?

There are several phrases which I think describe well my experience of abstract painting. For example; “colours are made to advance and recede in a constantly changing relationship” could be a statement applied to the work of Rothko or of Ben Nicholson or any number of abstract painters. Colour does seem to take on an importance or primacy in abstract art works as a form of expression. I think often colour becomes the subject matter or exploration point of many abstract painters. The blue canvases of Yves Klein come to mind as an example of extreme abstraction or obsession with colour and an absence of representation of ‘things’ in art.

Interestingly I’m unsure of how to apply his comment, “there is no ground in the paintings: shapes are held suspended across the surface”. Whilst I can see how this applies to Patrick Heron’s paintings of the 1970’s such as,  ‘Three Reds in Green and Magenta in Blue: April 1970’, the notion that there’s no ground or anchoring elements in abstract painting isn’t always true.

Not all abstract painters/artists have an absence of visual reference or subject matter as their inspiration. For example Patrick Heron’s ‘Azalea Garden: May 1956’  was inspired by looking out onto Azalea Bushes in his garden and this is clearly referenced in his choice of title. But it’s also reflected in the form, albeit very loosely, the rough textured, short brush strokes in their mix of colours look like a blurred version of the dotted flowers on the hedges.

Not all abstract painters saw their subject matter as literally though or wanted to make their inspiration clear to the audience. Rothko was interesting in this manner, he was recorded as saying in the Journal Possibilities,”shapes have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them, one recognises the principle and passion of organisms.”  I discovered this quote on the National Gallery of Art’s Mark Rothko Slides.  Finally on Rothko I found a video of curator Achim Borchardrt-Hume taking a tour of a 2008 retrospective exhibition of his works. I’ve included it below as it was interesting insight into Rothko’s work and I find it fascinating to see his works against each other.


See: TateShots: Rothko – October 2008



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