Catalogue entry

Robyn Denny b.1930

T01729 Home from Home 1959

Inscribed ‘Robin Denny’ on reverse in black oil ; in blue chalk ‘HOME FROM HOME/8’ x 6’6”‘; in white chalk ‘June ‘59’ and ‘DO NOT hang higher than six inches from floor’.
Canvas, 96 78 (244 x 198).
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1973.
Exh: Premiére Biennale de Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, October 1959 (British section, 9); British Paintings and Prints from the Paris Biennale, A.I.A. Gallery, November–December 1959 (8); Situation: An Exhibition of Recent British Abstract Art, Arts Council Gallery, Cambridge, November 1962 (9, repr.) and subsequent tour to Aberdeen, Newcastle, Bradford, Kettering and Liverpool; Tate Gallery, March–April 1973 (16, repr. p.31 and in colour p. 12).
Lit: David Thompson, Robyn Denny, 1971, pp.18–21 (repr. pl.7); Robert Kudielka, introduction to Tate Gallery exhibition catalogue 1973, pp.25–7 (repr. p.31 and in colour p.12).

The following catalogue entries on T01729, T01730 and T01830T01839 include information provided by the artist in conversation with the compiler on 30 January 1974.

In 1959 Denny’s concern with the way painting communicated with the spectator was exemplified by the diversity of the work he was producing: Transformable (1 and 2), paintings with moving panels which could be manipulated by the spectator to give different combinations; two murals (cf. T01834 and T01835), and the exhibition Place at the ICA in September.

T01729 and several other paintings from the same period, (‘Living In’, ‘Way In’, ‘Red (Untitled)’ and ‘Painting—4’) were no less important to him in respect of the way they ‘communicated’, and T01729 in particular was a necessary step in a direction which culminated in Place.

Although he had been aware of the large paintings being made in the United States from about 1956, and had himself painted ‘Golem 1’ (T01523), a comparatively large painting (60 in. x 96 in.) for its date (1957), he had not realised the importance of ‘scale’ as such. In 1958 he visited Venice and saw Rothko’s paintings at the Biennale and also Tintoretto’s frescos in the Scuola di San Rocco. The work of these two artists impressed him especially in the way that their physicality seemed to transform the spatial dimensions of their setting.

This experience he related to the then current theories about man’s relationship with the urban environment, especially that the density of city architecture did not allow people to step back to observe it. It occurred to him that he should try and achieve this same effect with his paintings, so that the spectator should not wish to ‘step back’, and therefore, see the paintings on a small scale, but should experience them close to. At the time he wrote (Artist’s Archive No.11, p.1): ‘Big pictures, man-scaled for comfort, myopic involvement demanding close spectator participation-I like them to be nice to be near’.

‘Living In’ (1958–9) was the first of the paintings with which Denny wanted to suggest a visual space which was an extension of the spectator’s own ‘living’ space. It continued the theme of ‘obliteration’ of images, with which he had been working on a smaller scale. T01729 also started out by the adaptation of his former means to the large scale, since the early marks in the painting had been stencilled numbers. However, they were covered over by ‘splashy’, gestural brush-strokes which ‘called for attention in their own right’.

While ‘Living In’ offered the spectator the illusion of a large void, stretching from the top to the bottom of the canvas—a ‘space to live in’, T01729 suggested another ‘home’ by not only being hung ‘not higher than six inches from (the) floor’ but also by the broad band which Denny introduced across the bottom, a ‘step-in’ or ‘threshold’ into the painting itself. Both these characteristics were developed in Denny’s contribution to Place, where all the paintings stood on the floor, at the same level as the spectator. The broad band across the bottom of the picture space was also continued in paintings of 1961, such as ‘Moyle’ and ‘Upton’.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.