Abstract drawings and prints by Christiane Baumgartner, the making of which the artist likens to the process of handwriting, are shown together with a selection of the final prints made by the late Gillian Ayres, a leading abstract artist of her generation. Geometric abstraction is explored through the graphic works of Anni Albers, Rana Begum and Bridget Riley.
This display coincides with the major exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, entitled Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940-70.
If you would like to receive a complete list of works in the exhibition, please contact [email protected].
Top image: Gillian Ayres; Byblos (detail), 2017.
Christiane Baumgartner (b. 1967), who is widely known for her woodcuts, has also been working freehand directly on plates to create abstract prints, including a suite of six etchings, made in 2018, based on biro pen drawings that she printed in black and ultramarine.
Her exploration of this method, a process she likens to handwriting, has since progressed to a larger group of works Baumgartner describes as ‘reverse drawings.’ To make these the artist inks small wooden blocks with a single colour, presses a piece of Japanese paper onto each surface, and draws on the versos. To make the series Französische Suite V, 2019, Baumgartner repeated this process up to twenty times, so that the resulting drawings range in colour and tone.
“Although Baumgartner's dense compositions are non-figurative, they can be read as landscapes and evocations of natural phenomenon that relate to earlier works.”
Gillian Forrester, art historian
Gillian Ayres (1930 - 2018) was one of the leading exponents of the radical developments in abstract painting dominating British Art in the late 1950s and 1960s. Eliminating any reference to the outside world, her work focused directly on the abstract properties of the paint surface, texture, scale and colour.
Ayres adopted a variety of styles and techniques throughout her career. Progressing from the early use of oil and ripolin thrown and poured onto wooden panels towards her late use of use of thick oil paint and woodblock printing to create works with clear and defined edges and abstract shapes, Ayres always forged her own path in a completely original way. Woodcuts from Ayres’ final body of work, in which she appropriates colour and light from the natural world to create prints full of movement, will be exhibited.
"I live and work surrounded by nature, and, in some way I suppose, that filters into the work, although not in a figurative way... Like looking at art, what inspires one is very personal, and sometimes one doesn’t know or doesn’t want to reveal where it comes from."
Gillian Ayres speaking in 2015
Anni Albers (1899 – 1994) devoted the latter part of her life entirely to printmaking, finding it the ideal vehicle to try out new compositional patterns. Exploring geometric abstraction and using different printmaking techniques, Albers was able to achieve results not possible in any other medium.
Intricate lines, triangular forms and rhomboidal patterns, such as those in Do I – VI, 1973, were inspired by both pre-Columbian art and contemporary industry. Albers use of layering, rotation and subtle combinations of colour created works on paper that remain optically challenging today.
"Printed with precision on pristine white paper, the geometric shapes and clean, straight lines reflect Bauhaus principles of economy of design, balance and the absence of personal gesture."
Catherine Daunt, Hamish Parker Curator of Modern and Contemporary Graphic Art at the British Museum, on prints by Anni Albers
Rana Begum (b. 1977) works within the parameters of abstraction to explore form, colour and light. The resulting geometric patterns and often luminous coloured surfaces of her works create changing sensations for the viewer. One of Begum’s first print projects, a group of small etchings, No. 860, 2018, will be displayed alongside a series of four larger mesh prints. Featuring overlapping fluorescent colours and geometric patterns, these works explore both the ambiance and unpredictability created by neighbouring colours. Begum’s investigations into colour relationships and visual perception are influenced by minimalism and constructivism. She is also inspired by the urban landscape as well as patterns from traditional Islamic art and architecture.
"I want to study colour my own way. I’m interested in the interaction between each colour, and what happens even with a tiny sliver of one colour next to another. What that does visually and what it does sensorially interests me."
The prints of Bridget Riley (b. 1931), one of Britain’s greatest living artists, reflect not only precision but the beauty of her painting practice. Working almost exclusively in silkscreen since the 1960s, Riley employs a medium which enables precise delineation of form and colour. She creates complex structures which produce visual sensations and experiences that are both subtle and arresting.
Although the appearance of Riley’s work has shifted over the years, the consistency of the intention has remained steadfast. Recent prints on show in the exhibition explore broader pictorial issues, breaking up the picture plane and opening up sensations of space and depth. Repetition and rhythm, as seen in Measure for Measure, 2020, translate into shapes that seem to advance and recede from the surface.
"You start from the simple things themselves – what a line can do, what a square or a circle can do – distorting shapes that were familiar to most people, putting movement through it, making them more active."