Victor Pasmore 1908-1998
Yellow Abstract 1960-1
Oil on board 1216 x 1216 (47 7/8 x 47 7/8) in an integral frame 1541 x 1543 x 77 (60 11/16 x 60 3/4 x 3)
Inscribed on the back in black oil paint ‘TOP’, centre top and ‘VP’, centre
Purchased from the artist through the New London Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1961
Recent Paintings and Constructions by Victor Pasmore, New London Gallery, London, March 1961 (8)
Victor Pasmore: Retrospective Exhibition 1925-65, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1965 (157, pl.58)
Victor Pasmore, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn., Nov. 1988-Jan. 1989, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., Feb.-April 1989 (33, repr. p.36)
Tate Gallery Report 1960-1, London 1961, p.29
‘Newly on View at the Tate Gallery’, Studio, vol.162, no.820, Aug. 1961, p.70, repr.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, pp.512-13
Simon Wilson, British Art: From Holbein to the Present Day, London 1979, p.164
Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, pp.15, 300, no.240, repr. p.135 (col.)
John Rothenstein, British Art Since 1900, London 1962, pl.139
John Rothenstein, ‘The Tate Gallery’, Ambassador, no.11, 1962, p.54
Despite its ochre colouring, this work was exhibited as Yellow Abstract in Pasmore’s exhibition at the New London Gallery in March 1961; the artist later explained: ‘Ochre can be a tint of yellow. But yellow is more poetic than ochre’. The majority of the image is built up from what appears to be decorator’s gloss paint applied over an eggshell white ground. The ground is visible on the edges of the panel and in some areas of its face. In contrast to the generally high level of gloss, areas of the artist’s later retouching to the left of the ochre lozenge shape and at the centre top have a matt finish; slight yellowing of the main white paint layer has rendered them more apparent. Pencil underdrawing can be seen along the right hand edge of the ochre form, while the broad black lines were painted with the aid of masking tape. Photography under raking light reveals that the ochre form at one time tapered upwards, almost to the top of the main panel, but was subsequently painted over. The plywood panel is mounted within a varnished pine frame, the inner face of which is lined with wood veneer to match that on the back panel. The panel is attached to the frame by screws from the back located into four pine supports arranged around the rear of the painted board. The frame is integral to the work.
Yellow Abstract is one of a group of paintings dominated by a single expansive area of strong colour made by Pasmore between 1959 and 1963. The forms in these paintings, though irregular in shape, were very simple at first and became increasingly complex, being developed by the artist into the interwoven biomorphic forms of later works like The Green Earth (Tate Gallery T03086). The similarity between the ochre form and the rear view of a nude in Pasmore’s earlier painting The River Picnic, 1938 (formerly known as The Quiet River) would have been even more pronounced prior to the reworking of the upper part of the composition. The form is also consistent with Pasmore’s interest in organic processes and morphology: a similar image of a square with its sides extended in a curve appears in a discussion of soap bubbles set within a cube in d’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form. The shape is thus suggestive of a form determined by internal pressures or organic growth, though the uneven curvature of its sides undermines that effect.
The black linear forms were a feature of many of Pasmore’s works after 1958, including Linear Motif in Black and White (Tate Gallery T00410). They serve to introduce a formal tension into the composition, which is often accentuated by a bend or the slight disjunction of two forms, both of which occur in Yellow Abstract. Though, as here, often painted with the aid of masking tape, they were usually applied with a degree of improvisation. This approach is also suggested by the loose brushwork along the top edge of the ochre lozenge. From the late 1960s Pasmore developed the motif of a black line into a more sinuous form which often meanders over the edge of the painting and onto the backboard.
An earlier Tate Gallery catalogue entry associated this work with Pasmore’s return to painting in 1957 after a period in which he had only made reliefs. Though the reliefs were often constructed by a joiner, he had always insisted on the importance of his own painting of them and from c.1955/6 saw them as explorations of pictorial as distinct from three-dimensional space. However, from the 1960s onwards Pasmore produced a large number of paintings and introduced increasingly painterly elements into his reliefs. The two formats became interchangeable: as he told the compiler on 4 June 1996, he would do something on one day and the opposite the next. The fact that Linear Motif in Black and White and Yellow Abstract were purchased from the same exhibition exemplifies this varied practice.
 d’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, On Growth and Form, 1913, 2nd ed. Cambridge 1942, II, p.715