Catalogue entry

T00502 BATHER: AUGUST 4TH 1961 1961

Inscr. ‘Vaughan’ b.r. and on back of canvas ‘August 4/61’.

Canvas. 40 1/4×36 (102×91·5).
Purchased from the artist through the Whitechapel Art Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1962.
Exh: Whitechapel Art Gallery, March–April 1962 (291, repr. pl.69), and Arts Council tour, May–September 1962 (44).
Lit: Exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1962, p.36.
Repr: Ambassador, No.11, 1962, p.54.

The artist wrote (22 June 1962) that he considered this one of his best works. He felt he had achieved a special balance between the purely abstract and the figurative elements which had hitherto pushed his work into one or other of these categories. ‘The background was a state of chronic dissatisfaction with the “image” in my work which dates from about 1956. At that time I had drawings and plans for dozens of figure paintings which I suddenly found myself unable to believe in sufficiently to carry out. Probably the impact of the American show about that time [Modern Art in the United States, January–February 1956, at the Tate Gallery had something to do with it. I wanted to go beyond the specific, identifiable image - yet I did not want to do an “abstract” painting. I wanted something which had the controlled ambiguity and vitality of a de Kooning but not the “gesturalexpressionistic quality.... The Aug 4 Bather was the first break through. Every attempt up to then had finally resolved itself into another figure painting or an “abstract”.... I worked it by a slightly new procedure which consisted of painting towards an image - but destroying the image (with a paint scraper) every time it began to form and threatened to “set” the picture. This kept it loose - but not abstract.’

The artist worked on the picture steadily for six weeks, then put it aside for a fortnight. On taking it up again he completed the outlying areas and much later, around Christmas 1961, softened the contrasts between the descending dark rectangular forms in the left centre.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II