Bob Law



Bob Law 1934–2004
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 722 x 1026 mm
Purchased 2010

Not on display


CASTLE CCCXXXIII 15.7.01 2001 is from a loose series of works, designated by the generic title Castle, which occupied Law during the last decade of his life. The ziggurat compositional format of this work is characteristic of this series; a band of red stretches across the lower third of the painting, centred on top of which is a band of yellow, the same width as the red band, its length being half that of the red band, and on top of this is a thin column of dark blue, again the same width as the other two bands but one fifteenth of the length of the red band. In other paintings and drawings, the colours change (or no colour is used) and the size, relationship and positioning of the bands also change. The artist David Batchelor has observed:

There is a system, but the work is not systematic … The basic three-part motif is stretched and pulled, squeezed, squashed or fattened up; there is no true or ideal form from which any of the examples could be said to develop or deviate. Each work is a provisional solution. It exists only for the day, and is dated and numbered accordingly. Beyond that, nothing is fixed.
(Newlyn Art Gallery 1999, p.7.)

Batchelor has suggested that the origins of this late group of works can be found in Law’s early Field drawings (for example Landscape VIII 1959, Tate T13318), especially    if the forms are read as flat areas rather than three-dimensional structures. Although this may be so – Law’s formal vocabulary being quite narrow and restrained – he has also made stacked sculptures that echo the ziggurat form of these paintings. The dynamic between the two readings forms part of the work. The contrast between a built structure and an area that is schematised as a field, between the two-dimensional and the suggestion of the three-dimensional, is also echoed in Law’s work by the interplay between the idea and the materiality of presence (or absence). The numbering of the painting and the inscription of a date signifies the passage of time but also holds special fascination for the artist in the magical pattern of numbers. The number ‘CCCXXXIII’ does not indicate that this is the three hundred and thirty third painting in the series, but carries different significance. The three-step ziggurat form is, for instance, echoed in a number that is itself split into threes. In some paintings and drawings the inscribed date also reflects such numerology or just the particular attractiveness of a number to Law, in other works it does indeed indicate the actual date the work was made. The ziggurat form can be read as a structure, but it can also refer to a complex philosophical idea. Art historian Anna Lovatt has elaborated this point:

While the Castle works can be interpreted iconographically as citadels, the entire series can also be read structurally, as the obsessive elaboration and fortification of a central idea. In a brief statement accompanying the series, Law explained that ‘the idea of castle seems to suggest that something in the middle needs protecting – the ring around the original thought’ … The bureaucratic numbering and dating of the Castle series, and its serial permutations of colour and shape, constitute a conceptual system that is both infinitely productive and endlessly self-reflexive.
(Anna Lovatt in Saltoun and Schubert 2010, p.21.)

Further reading
Bob Law: Paintings and Drawings 1959–78, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1978.
Bob Law, Drawings, Sculpture and Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Newlyn Art Gallery 1999.
Richard Saltoun and Karsten Schubert (eds.), Bob Law, A Retrospective, London 2010.

Andrew Wilson
April 2010