Michael Moon Untitled 1970

Artwork details

Artist
Michael Moon born 1937
Title
Untitled
Date 1970
Medium Acrylic paint on plastic
Dimensions Support: 2438 x 3048 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 1970
Reference
T01255
Not on display

Catalogue entry

Michael Moon b. 1937

T01255 Untitled 1970

Not inscribed.
Acrylic on strips of white’ Formica Plycore Beauty board’, mounted on board 96 x 120 (224 x 305). Purchased from the artist through the Waddington Galleries (Knapping Fund and Mara Savic Bequest) 1970.
Exh: Waddington Galleries, November 1970 (no catalogue).

The following notes, approved by the artist, are based on an interview with him on 17 February 1972.

Moon first started painting in an area directly related to the concerns of T01255 in late 1967, when he made a painting, which he still owns, consisting of a single surface across which was painted a single tonal progression from white to black. In his next painting (coll. Leslie Waddington), which consisted of red, yellow and blue only, the colours are disposed in vertical bands, each of a single hue, but this whole scheme of vertical bands was itself divided into six horizontal bands, according to strength of hue. The progression of colour-strength from weakest (lop band) to strongest (bottom band) was regular, and was worked out by augmenting the amount of medium progressively, according to strictly numerical values.

Thereafter, Moon varied his left-right and top-bottom progressions of colour and/or colour-strength, so that, for example within the movement across a given plane, a single progression from value A to value B might be replaced by A, B, A, or by more complex sequences. Nevertheless until 1970, Moon continued to adhere, in programming any picture, to a strictly mathematical organisation. Moon early discovered that strict adhesion to a pre-ordained mathematical programme of two ‘opposed’ progressions often led to the emergence within the painted area of unplanned but fairly clearly-articulated ‘independent’ shapes, of a sort towards which some painters might consciously work, but which to him were disturbing by-products. These configurations tended to work against two of his central priorities—assertion of the factuality of surface, and expression of the essentially measured (i.e. objective, almost scientific) origin of any mark and of the progressions across the surface. He found that if the painting was on a single surface it was impossible to meet both these requirements simultaneously and at the same time maintain the accuracy of each colour-value. It was for this reason that in the second (red/yellow/blue) painting referred to above Moon decided to articulate the horizontal bands unequivocally, by painting each on a separate strip of white formica. (Formica was chosen because it came in standard, ready cut strips and had the practical advantage of smoothness and easy re-working. Moon also liked its lustre). The formica strips were individually hung on the wall with short, equal gaps between each. All Moon’s paintings since then have consisted of a number of parallel horizontal white formica strips, painted. Their width has always been a standard 10 ft.—the widest available dimension of commercially-available formica. From 1967 to mid-1969 the gaps between the strips were of a standard dimension; all the paintings of this period consisted of six strips except the last two, each of which consisted of twelve. In late 1969, Moon increased the number of strips per painting to eighteen, at the same time narrowing the standard height of each strip and the standard inter-strip gap; these internal and overall dimensions established in late 1969 have been followed ever since. They were chosen because Moon wanted to find an essentially stable shape that was neither square nor particularly vertical or horizontal in feeling.

At the same time as adopting this format, Moon began bonding all the strips comprising any given work together, against a single board and bounded by a narrow containing band, but retaining the gaps between one strip and the next. The motives for this were partly practical, to overcome problems in hanging. Bonding was also, however, a means of intensifying the flatness of the paint-support and asserting a single plane. Moon wished his paintings to be seen to operate in the traditional context of pictorial art. However this context is not, for Moon, primarily one of illusion. In order to counter irrelevant effects of illusion and shape-making, and to give full effect to the central factors of measurement and surface, he had already adopted separate formica strips for each horizontal band. By 1970 he found it necessary in the same cause to modify strict adherence to programme. T01255 is one of the earliest paintings in which, at some point in the process of executing a work, he departed from a strict programme and proceeded more intuitively. Since that time his painting practice has continued to consist of setting up a rigid programme, advancing some way with it, and then allowing its needs to be qualified by others more purely aesthetic. In T01255 and all those of his paintings that are light in tone, Moon is interested in combining softness and subtlety of colour with hard rigidity of physical structure.

T01255 has a specially close relationship to one other painting that was exhibited with it in November 1970. This other painting, pink, grey and brown and very light in tone (coll. Leslie Waddington) was the first in which Moon departed from using layers of purely transparent colour, by including some thin opaque layers (i.e. white mixed in with the colour before it was applied). In T01255, which was painted immediately afterwards, the same procedure was used. These are the only two works in which Moon has used opaque colour to date.

Each of Moon’s paintings before T01255 presented a single development within a single work (i.e. although each horizontal strip might be a separate support, and although the left-right progressions might be unrelated to those from top to bottom, all these disparate elements were fused into a single scheme, so that if the gaps between the strips were closed there would be a single ‘seamless’ scheme on a single flat surface). In some pre-1970 works, every second strip was reversed. But although these works thus appeared at first sight to present two unrelated progressions from top to bottom, essentially they sprang from a single scheme or progression. T01255 was the first instance in which within a single work Moon presented two progressions entirely distinct in this sense. They arc ‘interleaved’ so that each of the two schemes is disposed, in regular sequence, on every second strip. The two progressions were so devised that all eighteen strips are uniform at their left ends but are at their most contrasting, on an ABAB scheme, at their right ends reading up and down the painting. One of Moon’s principal motives in alternating between independent progressions within a single work was to separate adjoining strips within a single progression even more decisively, so as to gain an even wider margin of error between notionally adjacent lines or colour-strengths. He thus opened up a wider area for the play of instinct in executing a work.

The artist considers it unimportant for the spectator to know the exact numerical structure of colour values underlying any given painting, and adds that the role played by instinctive judgement in the painting process is sufficiently large to make it impossible for him ever to repeat any given painting.

In T01255 as in all Moon’s paintings since 1967, paint was applied by brush. He had tried spraying, but discontinued it as spraying made it very difficult to measure colour changes. On each strip, on the bare formica ground or on a painted ground of uniform hue, Moon paints another colour, progressively mixing in other hues or reducing its colour-strength in successive passages laterally. In the first (late 1967) related painting, clear vertical divisions between these adjacent passages were perceptible, but in subsequent work such divisions were rapidly eliminated by bleeding.

The artist considers that there is no logical one-step-after-another progression from one work to the next he paints; if anything, he will usually tend to investigate a colour area that contrasts with the picture he has just completed.

T01255 and works like it were influenced by the general climate of American art of the late 1960’s but nor by any artist in particular. Although the propositions of systematic procedure and clear, repetitive modular physical structure are crucial to him, the artist considers that his work ends up in an area of sensibility closer to that of contemporary British painterly abstract artists than of those of British, European or American artists in whose work (as in his) measurement per se is of central importance. He has always wished his work not only to maintain a balance between frank assertion of structure and procedure and more nuanced, lyrical concerns, but actually to push these two tendencies as far apart as possible within any single work while still maintaining a unified whole.

There were no working drawings or studies for T01255. Its title, ‘Untitled’, is common to all Moon’s works since 1967.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

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