Catalogue entry

Robert Law 1934-2004

T01775 Drawing 25.4.60 1960

Inscribed ‘Law 25.4.60’b.r.
Pencil on paper, 26¾ x 39¾ (68 x101).Paper embossed ‘MIND PROPERTY CO.’b.r.
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1973.
Exh: Peter Hobbs Robert Law: Work by two British artists, I.C.A. Gallery, August–September 1960 (no number, repr.); Christchurch, Oxford, November 1963; Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf, August–September 1970;Onnasch Gallery, Berlin, October–November 1970; Lisson Gallery, London, April 1971; 7 aus London, Kunsthalle, Bern, January–February 1973 (7).
Lit: As T01774.

The information for this and the following entry is based on conversations with the artist 12 March 1974 and 9 April 1974 and documentary material supplied by him.

Towards the end of 1959, while living in Cornwall, the artist was making paintings and drawings which contributed to the imagery (appearance) of T01774 and T01775.

‘The Field Paintings’, on square canvas in heavy impasto poster paint ground into oil, were characterised by a thin border round the central field of colour. They have all since been destroyed. The drawings, of varying imagery, were in a way charts based on the landscape, comprising marks signifying wind direction, position of the sun, etc. (e.g. ‘Drawing 12 Landscape 18.11.59.’, private collection). These were occasionally made while or after lying in the fields, noting and feeling the topography, horizon, meteorological conditions.’

These two directions were amalgamated in a series of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ drawings made during the first half of 1960 after the artist had moved to Richmond.

The term ‘open’ refers to drawings like T01774, made of a basic outline and derived from the ‘environmental’ drawings: ‘closed’ refers to those like T01775, with the centres filled in, similar to the appearance of the ‘Field Paintings’.

Though there were several drawings before them (eg. ‘Number 22’ (1960) private collection), the artist felt that T01774 and T01775 were the most significant of the group. By the time they were made (April) he knew he was ‘into something’ and had bought especially large paper on which to execute them.

The drawings were occasionally made on consecutive days. Using a soft pencil (either a ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘Black Prince’ might have been used in T01774 and T01775), and ‘in an involved physical state’ he drew the outlines, filling them in if necessary, often unaware that the lead had been worn down or broken. He used the eraser ‘freely’ when ‘it didn’t look right, but not too often’. When starting the drawing he did not know whether it would be ‘open’ or ‘closed’ and he always drew an outline first. Most of the drawings of this type are of approximately the same proportions. The paper for both of these drawings was folded down the middle before any marks were made. This was a practical consideration due to the size of the paper which was too large to store and carry around. But for convenience, by the following month he had returned to a smaller format, for example in ‘Drawing 5.5.60’ (private collection) and ‘Drawing 11.5.60’ (collection of the artist) which are both 22 x 30 in.

The transitional aspect of T01775 is shown on close inspection by the imprints left in the paper of some erased or drawn over marks—notional arrows—around the edges of the drawing. That the artist had not completely abandoned the imagery of the ‘environmental’ drawings is witnessed by ‘Collage 1960’ (newsprint, crayon, paint, 66 in. x 66 in..; private collection), painted in August, where similar marks appear round the central area of collage.

What is hesitatingly introduced in T01774, but made explicit in T01775, is the increasing importance the artist gives to the rhomboidal shape: the ‘rectangle was too perfect, while the rhomboid created a tension’. This has been a concern in paintings and drawings from this period until 1973.

In an unpublished lecture written in May 1964 ‘The necessity for magic in art’ reflecting, among other things, his interest in Zen Buddhism, the artist illustrated what he meant by using the example of ‘flawed’ or ‘off-beat’ circles (i.e. those which are not geometrically perfect). In Chapters 28 and 29, devoted to the ‘central core’ of his work, he discusses ‘The Error Principle’ or ‘The Dynamic Flaw Principle’:

‘We gain knowledge through the imperfect, as in the case of the impure circle: it appears to have a beginning and an end—or there is a part of it that seems to be more dynamic than the remainder... On the other hand when faced with an absolutely pure circle the eye seems to travel round and round looking for some flaw with which to fix a point of reference before assaulting the total. Finally it gives up and in the intellect the “idea” of the pure circle is accepted... Where there is nothing to grasp there can be no perception—absolutes are final by definition, and thus seemingly dead... We seem to get the maximum energy from off-beat circles nearest the pure circle.’

The involvement with rhomboidal shape led the artist to make paintings on shaped canvases in 1962–63 but the direction was abandoned and the paintings destroyed.

The artist has made drawings consistently throughout his career, but though related to paintings contemporaneous with them, they are never studies but independent works. While the imagery in both genres may be parallel, his attitude towards them differs: ‘paper gives confidence in permanence, while canvas is delicate’. He continued to make ‘open’ and ‘closed’ drawings of this kind in 1964–65 but it was not until 1969 that he made his first large ‘open’ paintings (black oil paint on raw canvas, 108 x 216 in.).

Since the artist destroyed the paintings and earlier work, exhibited in Situation, R.B.A. Galleries, September 1960, the drawings from the first half of that year represent the most important and fundamental direction of his work at that time.

‘mind property co.’ was stamped on all works on paper in the artist’s possession around 1970. At this time Nicholas Logsdail had given him an old embossing stamp which read ‘gaminder property co. ltd.’ After some thought about what to do with it, the idea occurred to him of filing off some of the lettering to leave ‘mind property co.’ Hence the unusual spacing between the words.

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