Meridians VIII is a large abstract acrylic painting on canvas that consists of a fuzzy, cloud-like field in tones of white and grey that is overlaid with sharper black and white lines. The work has a black and brown underlayer that is patchily covered with the soft white and grey tones, and at the edges this layer remains completely exposed, forming a thin border around all four sides of the painting. The fuzzy, pale marks are presented in multiple layers and often look smudged, so that although the hazy field seems to suggest spatial recession due to the interplay between light and dark tones on the surface, it is difficult to gauge any clear sense of pictorial depth. The sharper, spark-like lines are mostly loosely clustered in a crescent-shaped band around the middle of the work, but some are also positioned along the edges of this form. They are all oriented in different directions, producing a sense of dynamic, disordered movement, an effect that is accentuated by the coupling together of white and black lines in places.
This work was made by the British artist Avis Newman in 1998, when she was living and working in London. It was produced using acrylic paint and chalk applied to a canvas that was stretched over a frame. Although no further account of Newman’s process for making the work exists, the art critic Nina Mehta has remarked that the sharper lines are ‘scratched over the surface’ of the work, suggesting that they were applied using the chalk (Mehta 1998, p.40).
Meridians VIII is one of a series of works, the total number of which is unknown, that are collectively titled Meridians. Each of Newman’s Meridians paintings uses similar white, grey, black and brown hues, and each combines contrasting light and dark tones as well as soft and crisp marks (see also Meridians VII 1998). During the 1980s and early 1990s Newman had primarily been known for producing large paintings and drawings on unstretched canvases that were stapled directly to the wall (see, for instance, Sensible Ellipse of Lost Origin 1985–6, Tate T07166). Meridians was the second group of works in which she began to stretch canvases over frames, the first being the Webs (Backlight) series of 1993–6 (see, for instance, Webs (Backlight) XVI 1996, Berardo Collection, Lisbon). According to Mehta, the Meridians series constituted a ‘formal and poetic development’ from the Webs (Backlight) works because while the paintings in both groups featured a ‘nebulous ground’, in the earlier series this ‘suggested a natural phenomenon so strongly that it almost hid the artist’s intentionality’, whereas in the Meridians group ‘we are never allowed to slip too far into the illusion [of depth] before being brought to focus on lines and marks which indicate an artistic process’ (Mehta 1998, p.40).
The word ‘meridian’ denotes an imaginary circle that runs around the surface of a celestial sphere, passing through its north and south poles. This work does not seem to feature any lines that might resemble a meridian, and its hazy, unbounded appearance runs counter to the geometric precision suggested by that term. Yet the curator Stella Santacatterina has claimed that Newman deliberately employed this contrast in the Meridians series, arguing that it ‘alludes to a spatiotemporal mapping beyond any visual geometry … What remains to be seen is not the materiality of “things” but the intangibility of air’ (Stella Santacatterina, untitled text, in Lisson Gallery 1998, unpaginated).
In 2003 Newman insisted that ‘I have never really considered myself to be a painter. My concern in making images relates to the conceptual space of drawing, which is less circumscribed than painting’ (Newman and De Zegher 2003, p.166). In the same interview she argued that in drawings ‘Marks always retain their autonomy however densely worked, and invariably suggest a looseness or transparency, thus evoking a fractured space’ (Newman and De Zegher 2003, p.78). The impression of an unfixed, disparate field is strongly evoked by Meridians VIII, which encourages the viewer’s attention to shift between individual marks and between different layers.
Avis Newman, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 1998, unpaginated, reproduced.
Nina Mehta, ‘Avis Newman, Lisson Gallery’, Art Monthly, no.216, May 1998, pp.40–2.
Avis Newman and Catherine de Zegher, ‘Conversation: Avis Newman/Catherine de Zegher’, in The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act (Selected from the Tate Collection), Drawing Centre, New York 2003, pp.67–82, 165–83, 231–7.
Supported by Christie’s.