Untitled No.44 is a large painting in acrylic paint on canvas. Over a thinly applied layer of pink paint, a sequence of more saturated dark green painted shapes are arranged, as if flowing down from the top right hand corner, part way down the right edge of the painting and then, as a series of three droplets, pooling and extending diagonally down towards the lower left hand corner of the painting. These green shapes appear to flow over and across the pink ground and yet this implied movement over recessive space is denied by the material facts of the way in which the paint is applied to the canvas in flat areas of colour: cold-toned green against the warm-toned pink. Nevertheless, from the arrangement of the green areas as particular shapes that seem to flow diagonally across the painting, the downward pull of gravity is also implied within a perspectival space. It is thus difficult not to read the abstract nature of this painting in an associative way. Ultimately, as the critic David Thompson described in 1964:
Huxley’s ‘images’ are not conceived in an abstract way. They are essentially evocative shapes, capable of various, if not specific, readings. Huxley would not particularise them, to himself or to the spectator, but they would not be valid if one did not feel oneself wanting to name them. Huxley is concerned with the metaphor: as with many modern painters, an unexpected juxtaposition of words, even in a dictionary, can spark an image for him; he has sometimes used green precisely because it is a colour with unavoidable associations. He is committed to a type of painting that uses the simplest possible elements. But they have to contain multiple meanings, a condensed complexity of effect.
(Thompson 1964, p.52.)
The subject matter of Huxley’s paintings in the mid-1960s revolved around the perceptual ambiguities of the relationship between a painting’s figure and ground; ambiguities that are intensified when the painted mark is approached as an image and the image as a painted mark. Shortly after leaving the Royal Academy Schools in 1960, Huxley evolved an approach to making paintings of enlarged brushstrokes; by the time of his first solo exhibition at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1963, and his participation the following year in the Whitechapel Gallery’s The New Generation: 1964 exhibition, this had developed into his ‘fluid series’, characterised by paintings such as Untitled No.44.
The painting was acquired from the Rowan Gallery in 1967 to enter the collection of the Peter Stuyvesant Collection in Zevenaar, Netherlands. The Peter Stuyvesant Foundation had sponsored the New Generation: 1964 exhibition and the six associated travel awards made to artists in the exhibition. The presentation of Huxley’s work in the exhibition was critically acclaimed and he received the first prize in these awards for travel to America (the other five equal awards were for travel in Europe). In America he met many of the leading American artists of the period such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, often visiting their studios and in some cases forming lasting friendships. These were cemented when, in 1965, Huxley was awarded a Harkness Fellowship that funded a residency in New York for a further two years, culminating in his first solo show there at the Kornblee Gallery. Untitled No.44 therefore marks an important moment in Huxley’s career and the Stuyvesant Foundation’s role in shaping it.
David Thompson, ‘Paul Huxley’, in The New Generation: 1964, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Gallery, London 1964, pp.51–6.
Bryan Robertson, ‘Paul Huxley’s Painting’, Studio International, vol.178, no.916, 1969.