On display at Tate Modern
- Display Room: A View from Sao Paulo: Abstraction and Society (Room 2)
- Display Theme: Level 2: Artist and Society
- Victor Pasmore 1908–1998
- Perspex and painted wood
- Object: 815 x 910 x 460 mm
- Purchased 2005
Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink is a large abstract relief sculpture that is displayed suspended from the ceiling. It comprises a rectangular, transparent Perspex sheet which is pierced by a collection of twenty-three wooden blocks that project out of it on either side. The blocks are arranged in an asymmetrical composition that is mostly concentrated around the middle and towards one side of the plastic sheet. They vary in size and in shape: while most are cuboids, some are slightly slanted and one is curved. The blocks’ longer sides are predominantly painted an off-white colour through which the tone and grain of the wood are visible, although some also have lines or areas of colour on their sides. Each of their smaller ends is painted in one of the colours listed in the work’s title. There is also one long, thin wooden strip that is painted black and runs horizontally across the Perspex sheet just below the centre of the composition, projecting well beyond the sheet’s edge. The relief is designed to be seen from all sides and is therefore displayed suspended at a distance from the wall.
This work was made by the British artist Victor Pasmore in London in around 1963. The 6 mm-thick, machine-made Perspex sheet has smooth edges and is hung from wire threaded through two small holes along its top edge. The wooden battens do not actually pierce through the plastic support – instead, each consists of two blocks held in place on either side of the sheet by concealed metal dowels that pass through holes. The long, black wooden strip is secured using hidden nails or screws. All of the paint was applied to the blocks using a brush.
Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink is one of a large number of abstract relief sculptures in Perspex and wood that Pasmore made between 1951 and 1966. While most of these are displayed flush to the wall, this work is one of a small group, produced between 1962 and 1965, which were designed to be viewed from all sides (see also Abstract in White, Black and Crimson 1964, National Gallery of Western Australia, Perth). The title of this work follows a formula that Pasmore used for many works in the series, with the words ‘Abstract in’ being followed by the colours featured in the relief.
In 1954 Pasmore explained that his decision to work with relief initially stemmed from limitations he noticed within the practice of abstract painting. He claimed that unlike representational artworks, which always refer to objects other than themselves, abstract works stress their status as objects in real space. He argued further that since painting is two-dimensional and can only suggest a third dimension through illusion, it is incapable of fully entering into a relationship with actual space, such that abstract artworks had to approach the conditions of sculpture in order to realise fully their potential (Pasmore in Lawrence Alloway, Nine Abstract Artists: Their Work and Theory, London 1954, p.36). This explains his decision to work with the medium of relief in a way that maintained certain aspects of his painterly practice – the application of paint to the blocks and the use of the flat, rectangular Perspex support suggestive of a ‘canvas’ – while including the three-dimensional quality of sculpture. In 1961 Pasmore stated further that due to their non-illusionistic nature, abstract works could invite a different kind of interaction with the viewer:
Whereas in representational art the spectator is confined to a point which is always at a distance from the object, in abstract form he must handle, feel, move around and get into the work if he is to fully apprehend the intentions of the artist.
(Victor Pasmore, ‘What is Abstract Art?’, Sunday Times, 5 February 1961, p.21.)
During the 1950s and 1960s Pasmore was involved with a loose circle of British artists, including Mary Martin, Kenneth Martin and Adrian Heath, who made work that is commonly referred to as ‘constructivist’ or ‘constructed abstract art’. These terms partly point to the fact that the artists’ works were often made by assembling components in a collage-like manner, rather than through sculpting or carving a material as had been the convention in modern British sculpture in the work of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, among others. This process of assembly is evident in Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink, which notably consists of machine-made parts, such as the Perspex sheet, as well as handmade ones.
Alan Bowness, Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore and others, Victor Pasmore, London 1980.
Alistair Grieve, Constructed Abstract Art in England, New Haven 2005.
Alistair Grieve, Victor Pasmore, London 2010, reproduced p.81.
Supported by Christie’s.
Technique and condition
A permanently assembled unit comprising a sheet of suspended transparent plastic, pierced by twenty-three centrally clustered projecting elements of softwood. These blocks have assorted dimensions and lengths, some are orthogonal others are slanted or curved. All projections exhibit predominantly black and white colouring with patches of strong colour on protruding ends and sides.
The sheet of clear machine-made Perspex has two pierced holes near the top edge for attaching hanging wires. The smooth edges are 6mm thick with an opaque finish. Planed wood battens of varying dimensions appear to pass through the Perspex from back to front; they are secured in place with hidden metal dowels passing through concealed holes in the plastic. One thin black painted batten is held with three concealed nails or headless screws at right-angles to all the others and projects 192mm out to one side, well beyond the square of Perspex. Excluding the inside ends, where they butt up against the Perspex, all sides of the battens have predominately grey/white matt paint finish applies by brush. As described by the title of the relief, elliptical, round and striped patches of strong coloured gloss paint are on the sides, as well as the end grain of many battens.
The structure is mostly sound but three projections that pass over the edge of the Perspex are loose because they are attached by only one concealed countersunk screw. The Perspex sheet has a few minor chips to the top edge. The sides have numerous circular surface scratches with one deep L shaped scratch to the lower front face. Many wood battens have small chips in the paint, as well as losses of wood substrate on their furthest projected point, due to past abrasions. The surface is overall dusty with accumulated dirt in crevices. Handling marks in the paint, probably made by the artist, have yellowed and are now evident on the inner surfaces of the wood battens close to the Perspex sheet. There is no artist’s inscription.
The layers of accumulated dust on top surfaces and dirt trapped in recessed areas, was removed with a soft brush. The Perspex was cleaned with a specialist polish to slightly diminish the scratches.
The relief is designed to be viewed from all sides so will be displayed suspended from the top edge on two thin flying wires.