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.)
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.
Supported by Christie’s.