Catalogue entry

Victor Pasmore 1908-1998

Relief Construction in Black, White and Maroon 1962-3


Painted wood and perspex
687 x 740 x 140 (27 1/16 x 29 1/8 x 5 1/2)

Inscribed on back in black paint ‘VP’

Purchased from the artist through the Marlborough New London Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1963

54-64: Painting and Sculpture of a Decade, Tate Gallery, London, April-June 1964 (130, repr. as ‘Relief Construction in White, Black and Indian Red’)
Victor Pasmore: Retrospective Exhibition 1925-65, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1965 (173, ?col. repr. upside down pl.5)
Victor Pasmore 1950-1967, Musée des beaux-arts et de la dentelle de Calais, June-Oct. 1985 (21, repr. p.29)

Tate Gallery Report 1963-4, London 1964, p.39
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.513-4
Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p.301, no.276, ? repr. upside down p.105 (col., as Abstract in Black, White and Maroon)
Penelope Curtis, Modern British Sculpture from the Collection, Tate Gallery Liverpool 1988, p.98, repr.

?Charles S. Spencer, ‘Victor Pasmore: The Home-Coming to Paint’, Studio International, vol.167, no.854, June 1964, p.226

A late example of a series of reliefs begun in 1954, Relief Construction in Black, White and Maroon is the first of four versions of the same format.[1] Though apparently identical in reproduction, the various versions have different dimensions and one of them was reproduced in Bowness and Lambertini so that the wooden elements ran horizontally. In 1954 Lawrence Alloway had suggested that Pasmore intended his reliefs to be produced in editions of six or twelve;[2] though not literally an edition, Relief Construction in Black, White and Maroon seems to be a rare example of that intention almost being put into practice.

According to Alloway the group of reliefs to which this belongs originated as a by-product of Pasmore’s development of the series of flatter relief constructions that includes Abstract in White, Black, Indian and Lilac (Tate Gallery T00166). He described Pasmore’s improvisation with two similarly sized planes - one white, the other perspex - and a selection of wooden strips of uniform length. During the working process these were arranged in various configurations in which the perspex sheet was sandwiched between the wooden elements. Though these were distinct from the form of the final work, on seeing photographs of the work in progress, Pasmore told Alloway that he would ‘construct all the stages independently as separate reliefs. The last version, therefore, will be simply a variation on the others’.

Relief Construction in Black, White and Maroon is made up of three elements attached to the face of a perspex sheet. A thin vertical element is located between two painted wooden blocks, each 125 mm wide (both step back irregularly to 92 mm at their interface with the perspex) and 260 mm high but divided into a complex structure of widely varying depths. The basic make-up of each of the larger blocks may be read as wooden laths of uniform length, but of varying thicknesses and depths, arranged side by side. However, when seen in section it is apparent that the structure is more complex. Pieces have been attached, using three evenly spaced nails, at right angles to the front face of several of the elements so that there is an overhang over some of the recessed sections. Further nails, visible beneath the paint on the face of the relief, suggest that most of the more projected sections were attached to a solid basic form from which the areas of deepest recession had been gouged out. The two especially thin elements, which project furthest, would therefore either be sunk into the base or sandwiched between two sections.

It was Pasmore’s practice to have such works made by a joiner and to paint the structure himself. In his reliefs he often combined black, white and a third, neutral tone; the conjunction here, of black, white and maroon, is a common example. Mary Martin, whose work was close to Pasmore’s, has described how she used colour in her paintings of the late 1940s: ‘The positive areas were painted white and the negative areas black but those areas which partook of both positive and negative were painted earth red. Grey, the logical colour, was illusionistic and dead, but red, its opposite, lived up to the black and the white’.[3] It seems likely that red served a similar function in Pasmore’s work, though his colour distribution appears to be instinctive rather than systematic. The central vertical is painted black on its front and left hand faces and red on the right; the outermost side faces of both of the larger blocks are black; and a wide area of varying depths towards the right hand side is painted red. The arrangement of the vertical elements within the two blocks appears to be roughly symmetrical: in each the outermost section is 32 mm (1 1/4 inches) wide, and the width of the innermost piece is 20 mm (3/4 inch). Between the extremes of each block there are certain common features, most notably the two very thin projected elements. However, a range of depths in conjunction with different colour arrangements indicates Pasmore’s overriding concern with the varying effects of visual and spatial recession.

On the reverse side of the perspex sheet is an H-shaped wooden structure which is integral to the work and serves as a counter-weight to the main form. The work is now hung from this, but holes in the top corners of the perspex plane and earlier photographs reveal that the relief was originally intended to be suspended from the ceiling. Though it would have been hung only a few inches from the wall, this associates Relief Construction in Black, White and Maroon with Pasmore’s interventions into architectural and other more three-dimensional projects. From 1955 he had been involved in the design of Peterlee New Town in County Durham and in 1957 he and Richard Hamilton devised An Exhibit, a display at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle made up of coloured transparent screens suspended so as to divide up a room. A later example of this form of relief was intended to be hung in a similar fashion, so it could be viewed from both sides.[4] Poor reproductions of this suspended relief, first exhibited as Hanging Construction in White, Black and Maroon,[5] suggest that the structure and colouring of its central form was the same as that in Relief Construction in Black, White and Maroon. Neverthless, the suspension of a relief a few inches in front of a wall relates it to painting as distinct from architecture (in 1955 an exhibition of paintings by Roger Hilton at the Symon Quinn Gallery, Sheffield was hung away from the wall in a similar fashion). As in Abstract in White, Black, Indian and Lilac the three-dimensional forms of this work project colour into the room, reflecting Pasmore’s long-running concern within the expansion of the forms of a picture into real space. To this end, the transparency of the perspex serves to create an ambiguity between the structure of the work of art and its surroundings.

The existence of this composition in a number of versions has created some confusion over its reproduction. The colour reproductions said to be of the Tate’s work, in Bowness and Lambertini and in the catalogue of Pasmore’s 1965 Tate Gallery retrospective are clearly made from the same transparency as a number of images given different titles. Exactly the same photograph was used to reproduce Projective Relief in White, Black and Umber, 1963,[6] Relief Construction in White, Black and Indian Red, 1963[7] and Projective Construction (transparent) in White, Black and Maroon, 1963.[8] The black and white reproduction purporting to be of the second version of the Tate’s work would also appear to be made from the same transparency.[9] The earliest appearance of this photograph is likely to be the most accurate; as this was in 1964, the year after the Tate Gallery purchased Relief Construction in Black, White and Maroon, it is probably of a later version of the relief. This would explain the absence in the photograph of the two holes in the top corners of the Tate’s work. However, it makes it unclear whether the work was consistently reproduced upside down or the later version was hung differently to the original. The standard of reproduction makes it difficult to distinguish different works by the colours in their titles. This, and the fact that the titles under which works were originally exhibited have often been changed in Bowness and Lambertini, make it impossible to tell which, if any, of the similar works with different titles may be identified with those described as versions of the Tate’s work.

Chris Stephens
Feb. 1998

[1] Versions 2-4 repr. Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p.301, nos 277-9
[2] Lawrence Alloway, ‘Pasmore Constructs a Relief’, Artnews, vol.55, no.4, summer 1954, pp.32-5
[3] Quoted in Mary Martin, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1984, p.14
[4] Repr. Bowness and Lambertini 1980, p.301, no.284
[5] Victor Pasmore, exh. cat., Marlborough New London Gallery, May 1964, no.9, repr.
[6] Ibid., no.8
[7] Victor Pasmore; Patrick Heron, VIII Bienal de São Paulo, Gra-Bretanha 1965, no.22
[8] Victor Pasmore: Paintings and Constructions 1960-7, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, June 1968, no.9
[9] Bowness and Lambertini 1980, p.301, no.277