Catalogue entry

T02267 FOUR SHIFTS I 1977–8

Inscribed on original stretcher ‘“FOUR SHIFTS I” John Loker’
Acrylic on canvas, 84 × 72 (216.5 × 183)
Purchased from the Angela Flowers Gallery (Knapping Fund) 1978
Exh: John Loker, Paintings and Drawings, Angela Flowers Gallery, March – April 1978 (no catalogue, listed on announcement card)

Since 1972, John Loker's paintings have been based on, or suggested by landscape. The majority have been variations on four principal themes, to which the artist has given the following generic titles, ‘Horizons’ (1972–4), ‘Extracts’ (1974–80), ‘Shifts’ (1977–80) and ‘Sections’ (1979-). All these groups have formal roots in a series of abstract horizontal fibreglass and resin wall reliefs, composed of two or more adjoining sections, which Loker made between 1968 and 1970, (although, at that time, he had not considered a landscape connection). In 1971, Angela Flowers invited him to submit a work for an exhibition of artists' postcards and he made a collage of six discrete panoramic landscape photographs, butted together in pairs to form three parallel horizontal bars. The blocks of landscape in this work, ‘Six Horizons’ (1971), resembled the wedge-shaped perspectival planes of Loker's earlier abstract panels, which, because of their width, had to be ‘scanned’ or read in sections, the joins between panels acting as points of focus. The vertical joins between the paired photographs in the postcard collage accentuated the horizontality of the work, while at the same time calling attention to three artificially created horizon lines. However, the photographs introduced a further dimension by dealing with the illusion of spatial recession in a literal, figurative sense. Reading downwards from the top left panel, the three ‘horizons’ established a distant view, a middle ground and a foreground, so that the eye was increasingly drawn into the landscape while travelling down the work.

Loker's discovery of a figurative equivalent for his formal concerns led next to a series of paintings based on photographs he took of a Dorset coastline in 1971. In ‘Coast 2’, (1973) (Coll. Rugby City Art Gallery) three atmospheric views of the same double horizon line created by beach and sea are represented almost filmically by three ‘frames’ isolated against a unified sprayed background. Running down the centre of the work, three small grey-blue blocks, (a concrete pillbox on the beach) focus the eye and, by their fractionally altered relationship with beach and sea in each ‘frame’, record the artist's shifting viewpoint, his gradual movement into the landscape when photographing it. By 1974 Loker had stopped working with photographs and in the ‘Extracts’ & ‘Shifts’ series gradually moved away from anecdotal references which could lead to identification with features in specific landscapes.

The artist worked on ‘Four Shifts I’ for a period of approximately three months in tandem with ‘Four Shifts Centre I’ (1977–8) (coll. Wetering Galerie, Amsterdam), which was also exhibited at Angela Flowers, March–April 1978. These, together with a slightly later painting, ‘Four Shifts Centre II’ (1978) (coll. the artist) are seen by Loker as an informal group relating to an experience of landscape, rather than to any specific place. The title of T02267 describes four shifting views of a horizontal slice of ‘landscape’. It is composed on a drawn grid which gradually enlarges towards the top of the painting. As the scale of the grid changes in each section, so the blocks of colour are enlarged and intensified as they move up the surface, and, in a process resembling photographic enlargement, certain peripheral areas described in the lower sections are lost, as ‘details’ are clarified towards the top. The blocks of colour are built up diagonally and horizontally, suggesting fragments of hills and sky and because of their altered scale in each section they recreate the sensation of travelling over and into a landscape, where distant features appear static and the foreground gradually enlarges and slips away. However, the painting does not describe actual topographical features and while it calls up an experience of the external world, an encounter with nature, its strong interior rhythms, in relation to both colour and form, constantly relocate the eye on the surface of the canvas and facilitate an abstract or formal reading. Loker paints from the top of the canvas down and generally works with his canvas on the flat in the early stages. He regards painting as a reductive process; as the colours in T02267 were built up, he varied their intensity in the lower sections and partially obscured the lines of the grid with layers of sprayed paint. In order to do this, he used a fixative diffuser, which enabled him to exercise a greater degree of control than would have been possible with a spray-gun. When repeating and adjusting a mark, Loker consciously tries to recall the speed or gesture with which the original was made, finding in this intuitive approach a more accurate way of recreating his forms than any attempt to copy their outward appearances. His colours, in this case predominantly pale greys, blues, mauves and pinks against a subtle grey-blue background, are carefully orchestrated in relation to the changing scale of each mark.

Loker regards the process of drawing as independent from, but complementary to his painting. He made eight drawings relating to ‘Four Shifts I’. Four of these, ‘Four Shifts 1–4’ (1 & 2 1977; 3 & 4 1978) were made concurrently with the painting and exhibited at Angela Flowers with it. A further four drawings ‘Pennine Shifts 1–4’ were worked on subsequently and exhibited at the Park Square Gallery, Leeds and the Wetering Galerie, in 1978. Most of these drawings are in private collections in Holland.

This entry is based on a conversation with the artist (22 August 1980). It has been read and approved by him.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981