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British Geometric Abstract Art
Alexander Adams, September 2019
Originally posted on Wordpress.
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
Image: (left) Marc Vaux, OV.M.13 (2014), acrylic on MDF, 132 x 115.5 cm; (right) John Carter, © courtesy of the artist. Three Turns Variant (2007), acrylic with marble powder on plywood, 65 x 70 x 8 cm, © courtesy of the artist
Geometric abstract art has generally been poorly received in Great Britain. Britain
was late to visual Modernism and accepted only its most tepid forms until at least
In this book, James Bartos looks at the geometric abstraction in British art and
provides case studies six artists: Alan Reynolds (1926-
The author is unequivocally in favour of beauty, no matter how spurned that term is by the sophisticated consumers of advanced social and artistic theory. The publishers are to be commended for the decision to publish a book that advocates contemporary art, painting and beauty – a shamefully rare intersection of vectors in contemporary art publishing. Bartos uses Tim Craven’s tripartite categorisation of abstract art into biomorphic, expressive (gestural) and geometric. He comments on the associations between geometric abstraction and Minimalism.
“I think painting can be minimal, and I think of minimalist art as being a sort of
quiet art. Most art today is very shouty art. It shouts slogans and politics and
social issues; it shouts with bizarre objects, chaotic graphics, loud colours, shiny
surfaces, cacophonic sounds coming out of multiple speakers, multiple images coming
out of multiple TV screens, complicated back-
In the first part of the book, Bartos recounts the international development of the
style, starting with Constructivism and de Stijl and running through later phases.
Those phases and artists include Bauhaus, Naum Gabo, Josef Albers, Barnett Newman,
Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Minimalism (including
Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt). The emphasis on prints and painting is expanded to include
Judd’s sculptures made of painted aluminium components. Minimalism was a major area
of experimentation for geometric art. A left-
Image: Callum Innes, Untitled from the Canto series (1992), oil and turpentine on paper, 210 x 100 cm, © courtesy of the artist.]
A separate section discusses the evolution of hard-
This account is solid, illustrated with appropriate examples and could be used as a set text on the development of Modernist painting in Great Britain.
Image: Luke Frost, Deep primary cyan volts (2014), acrylic on aluminium, 84 x 84cm. © courtesy of the artist.
The individual texts on artists include interviews, with context provided. In the case of the recently deceased Alan Reynolds, the interviews are with his dealers. The other artists consented to participate in interviews which provide a record of their progress and affiliations. Their interviews are sometimes unexpected and revealing. (Marc Vaux found more to admire in Pasmore’s abstract paintings than in his geometric relief sculptures. Peter Joseph never formally studied art. Luke Frost’s greatest influence is Dan Flavin.) Comments from their dealers and extracts from reviews of exhibitions explicate why the art appealed to viewers and how the art was accepted (sometimes reluctantly) by the public and museums. The interview transcriptions provide us with a record of the artists’ attitudes towards art and a glimpse of their working practices. Bartos
..adds his own thoughts about salient elements in the way the art operates. This is difficult because art which relies on visual effect – and very little else – is the hardest to write about.
The artists talk about their influences and what art they were looking at when they developed their signature styles. There are a lot of relief constructions and the multiple views from different angles allow us to appreciate the construction of these pieces, which straddle the line between painting and sculpture, surface and object. Some of this art is not well known, having been crowded out by more aggressive showy art that is easier to summarise verbally and which allows itself to be used for political causes. The attention paid to such restrained and careful art is thoroughly welcome. Let’s hope that publishers such as Unicorn and authors such as Bartos are held up as examples of independence and encourage others to investigate art that demands and rewards patient observation and prolonged interaction.
James Bartos, The Geometry of Beauty: The Not Very British Art of Six British Artists, Unicorn, 2019, hardback, 320pp, fully illus., £30, ISBN 978 1 912690 34 3
© 2019 Alexander Adams
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