Victor Pasmore

Space, Time and Four Dimensions

1992–5

Medium
Oil paint, graphite, charcoal and spray paint on plywood board
Dimensions
Support: 1223 x 2275 x 35 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Knapping Fund 1999
Reference
T07494

Summary

Space, Time and Four Dimensions is a large, horizontally oriented abstract painting on a rectangular plywood board by the British artist Victor Pasmore. The board is mostly painted white, with the grain of the wood showing through the surface. It features a loose composition consisting of black lines, some of which are thick and solid and others thin and scratchy, circular forms in blue, green and black, and diffuse dark blue patches that roughly comprise two rounded, arrow-like forms pointing towards one another. The composition runs broadly horizontally across the painting’s centre, although two thick black lines, each with a shorter line protruding from one side, emerge vertically from the top and bottom edges of the canvas towards its central horizontal axis. Various contrasts can be discerned between the shapes in the painting: for example, solid blocks of colour are juxtaposed with softer tones, and thick, smooth lines contrast with thin, uneven ones. In places the thin, meandering black lines connect other shapes in the composition together, and a cluster of these in the left part of the painting forms the letters ‘VP’. The work is mounted in a grey hardboard frame that has a plastic glaze.

This work was made by Pasmore between 1992 and 1995, while the artist was living and working in Gudja, Malta. Pasmore first primed the board with a white, polyvinyl-acetate-based household emulsion, which forms the work’s background, and then drew the elements of the composition onto the board using either pencil or charcoal. Most of the blue and green forms were created using spray paint, with the hard-edged shapes most likely executed with stencils. However, the lighter blue and purple shapes on the left, as well as all of the black shapes, were applied using oil paint, and in the case of the thick black lines these were made by painting between two strips of masking tape that Pasmore attached to the board temporarily. Speckles of bright green spray paint are present across the work and there are traces of dark blue spray paint mixed into the white primer, especially around the blue forms in the left side of the composition.

With its references to time, space and the fourth dimension, the title of this work reflects Pasmore’s interest in modern science, particularly physics, which was central to his work from the 1950s onwards. Although first discussed in the eighteenth century, the notion that space has a fourth dimension was fully developed by the German mathematician Hermann Minkowski in the early twentieth century, providing the basis for the German physicist Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity that followed shortly after. In 1995 Pasmore discussed the importance of such scientific developments to art, writing that ‘with the visual and objective world rendered ambiguous by modern scientific ideas like relativity, [and] four dimensions ... its representation in Painting also became ambiguous; a condition which led to increasing subjective and irrational freedom’ (quoted in Marlborough Fine Art Gallery 1995, unpaginated). Pasmore’s claim that these innovations changed art’s relationship with representation may have been a reference to abstract art, which he advocated and consistently practised from the 1950s onwards, and his reference to ‘irrational freedom’ might also partly explain the relatively haphazard composition of Space, Time and Four Dimensions.

Contrasting forms and suggestions of dynamic, colliding energies – as can be seen in the particle-like dark blue forms and the chaotic trajectories of the thin lines in this painting – are common features of Pasmore’s work from the 1980s and 1990s (see, for instance, The Harmony of Opposites 1985, private collection). In 1986 the artist wrote that ‘In really great art opposing forces make up a dialectical harmony which creates a dynamic rather than static beauty’ (quoted in Grieve 2010, p.136). Discussing an exhibition of Pasmore’s work in 1995 in which this painting was exhibited, the critic Simon Morley suggested that his works from that year achieved this ‘through a series of dualities which set up a dramatic tension between opposites ... The overall effect is to animate the space of the painting so that there seems to be a kind of meaningful event unfolding within the work, an interplaying of “characters” performing in some atavistic drama about elemental forces’ (Morley 1995, p.38).

Pasmore often included his initials in his compositions during the 1990s (see, for instance, Blue Music 5 1992–5). In 1993 he connected this with the personal nature of his work, stating: ‘I’m an emotional painter ... I always sign my work VP because actually that’s the whole content: me. Otherwise it’s just paint.’ (Quoted in Richard Waite, ‘Taking Stock’, R.A., no.41, Winter 1993, p.51.)

Further reading
Victor Pasmore: New Work, exhibition catalogue, Marlborough Fine Art Gallery, London 1995, unpaginated, reproduced.
Simon Morley, ‘Victor Pasmore’, Art Monthly, no.191, November 1995, pp.38–9, reproduced p.39.
Alastair Grieve, Victor Pasmore, London 2010, reproduced pp.128–9.

David Hodge
January 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

Technique and condition

The support is a single piece of 3.5mm thick 3 ply plywood board. This with a prominent grain running horizontally on the face and reverse is attached to a backing board consisting of a single piece of 3mm hardboard faced with canvas.

The lean, white priming has been brushed over the whole of the front of the plywood and runs slightly over the edges of the panel. Analysis indicates that the priming consists of a poly-vinyl acetate based standard household emulsion. It is fairly stiff in consistency with a texture of mainly horizontal brush marks. The texture of the plywood board is also apparent in some areas. The priming is left visible over much of the painting and forms an important part of the image.

The drawn and painted abstract shapes were applied thinly on top of the priming using a variety of techniques. First the position of most of the forms was established; sometimes with brief dashes of the pencil to mark an approximate position, but in other places with more complete outlines lightly drawn in pencil. Spray paint was then used to apply colour. Hard-edged blobs of mid blues and a transparent bright green (fluorescent in Ultra Violet light) appear to have been created by masking with stencils of some sort. Dark blue spray paint was used without masking to produce the larger, more diffuse shapes. In contrast the pale blue and brown paint (possibly oil paint) of the blobs on the left seem to have been applied with a brush. The thin meandering lines were then re-drawn in charcoal/soft graphite over the initial light drawing and black paint was brushed on to form the thick lines and small black blobs. The two hard-edged lines in the centre were produced using masking tape at both sides, which has left distinctive raised lines and little runs at the edges of the black paint. There are scattered speckles of bright green spray paint on top of the other colours and the white priming. These are so extensive that it seems they were applied intentionally, over most of the painting although they are hardly visible from viewing distance. There are also traces of the dark blue spray paint on the raised brush marks of the priming over much of the painting, particularly on the areas closest to the blue sprayed shapes.

There are several alterations by the artist. For example the horizontal element of the lower black masked line has been reduced in thickness by painting over it in white paint. Some areas show signs rubbing out, for example, a brown blob near the green blobs on the right has been sanded down and then painted out in white priming. There is a similar alteration at the edge of the mid-blue blob at the bottom. The different types of paint vary greatly in gloss and transparency and there is no varnish.

The painting is in good condition but is fragile and likely to be very sensitive to changes in humidity. The plywood support is very thin for its size and the canvas faced backing board is not stiff enough to support the painting. There are undulations between the points of attachment with the board and one large check in the face veneer of the plywood has developed, causing cracking in the priming/paint. More checks are likely to form in the future. The paint/priming are in good condition. There are numerous, but minor scuffs, scratches and abrasion, particularly at the edges and corners of the plywood board where there are some small losses. Many of these as well as the finger marks at edges of the painting may have occurred during the painting process or before the attachment of the painting to the backing board. There are pentimenti visible which will probably become more obvious as the paint changes differentially in the future.

The painting, mounted onto its canvas covered mounting board is framed by a simple box section shadow box of grey painted hardwood. The frame is glazed with perspex and has a canvas covered inner slip (spacer between glazing and mount) which matches the mounting board. The framing was carried out by Stewart Heslop Frames soon after the creation of the work, to the instructions of the artist. The frame is visually acceptable and in good condition, but it is too flimsy to give adequate support to the painting. Both the painting's hardboard backing and the acrylic glazing are very thin and flexible for the size of the work and their flexibility has allowed contact between the paint and the perspex, resulting in several small abrasion damages to the surface of the paint.

Sam Hodge
January 1999

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