Catalogue entry

Douglas Portway 1922-1993

T01479 White Screen 1970–71

Inscribed ‘Portway’ b.l.
Canvas, 40 x 50 (101.6 x 127).
Presented anonymously in memory of A.F.C. Turner 1971.
Exh: Marjorie Parr Gallery, October-November 1971 (works not listed).

The artist originally named this work ‘White Screen’ but it was renamed ‘Brown Thrust’ by the Marjorie Parr Gallery. The artist wrote (letter, 16 April 1972) that titles were not very important. ‘However, the name “White Screen “ was, I suppose, more appropriate, in that it lays stress on that aspect of the work—the ambiguous semi-transparent hard edged form—which is its most central feature.

‘Although the painting does not form part of a series it does relate to the body of my work over the last three or four years. Real and illusionistic characteristics, hard and soft paint qualities, opaques and transparencies.... the mixing of styles as well as the attempt to reconcile disparate images and attitudes into a cohesive whole is both the aim and the subject of a lot of my recent work.

‘In the process of working on a specific canvas I make many small sketches and drawings, none of which are of any intrinsic value although collectively I believe they are quite revealing in that they demonstrate the process I follow and the way in which my mind is working. The procedure is usually fairly consistent for all my works on canvas. The painting starts as a white ground prepared in a way which suits the “building up” processes which are to follow. I then darken the whole surface and subsequently go over it again with a light colour and tone gradually adding colour and producing in this way a “ground” which I hope will have a seminal quality and from which I will continue. Thereafter there are usually a number of cancelling out or contradictory elements which are dealt with—soft atmospheric spatial qualities are countered by hard structure—colour is over laid or removed (or partially so) in the action of the work. All this time I seem to be heading to a resolution of the painting—i.e. the physical quality of the object (canvas and paint), and a total image which I can only call “suggestive”.’

He added, ‘In the painting itself I consciously aim to achieve a sort of ambiguity which avoids definition in terms of systems, “isms” absolutes and positives. ... I have been preoccupied for some time now with the conviction that one of the most important properties of a work of art is the attempt to reconcile opposites, and in their fusion to achieve a “wholeness” or “oneness”, the experiencing of which should be revelatory—both for the artist and the spectator—something akin to the experience of enlightenment in terms of religion. I see the resolution of the problem of life and living in these same terms—a striving towards a “completeness” by the fusion of opposites—male and female, life and death, intuition and reason (the circle and the square). In plastic terms this problem involves for me a struggle to achieve a visual vocabulary which has no name, a synthesis of the classical and the romantic, the conscious and the unconscious, paintings which are both formal and free.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.