SQ 6 (1) 1994 is a three-dimensional geometric construction comprising vertical and horizontal elements forming a square frame-like arrangement that is hung on the gallery wall. The structure has four layers, which are composed of eight lengths of square aluminium tubing coated in white cellulose paint, and is built up in a way that allows the lower levels to be visible. Affixed along one edge of each aluminium length are two very thin layers of wooden battening, each composed of two differently sized lengths of ramin wood that are covered in bright acrylic paint. On the lowest two layers of the structure, the wooden edges face inwards, while on the upper two layers the wood is placed on the outer side of the aluminium lengths. As a consequence, when the work is viewed straight on, the strips of colour seen through the various layers appear to be very close together. Ten different colours are used on the wooden battens, including shades of blue, green, yellow and orange. The work maintains a large central void through which the gallery wall is visible.
This work was made by the London-based British artist Marc Vaux, who designed, cut, fitted and painted the various parts of the three-dimensional structure. After making preliminary pencil drawings, he employed a computer programme to select the size of the individual elements, and only decided upon the colours of the painted wooden battens once the structure was built. The bracketed number one in the title of this work refers to the fact that it is the first in a series of possible permutations involving these particular elements.
Vaux first arranged lengths of aluminium and wood into a square composition in 1986 (see Lynton 2005 p.48). In 1988 he began to combine sets of squares to form thicker, layered constructions such as SQ 6 (1). The artist considers these works to be paintings rather than sculptures, and in a rare public statement in 1989 he claimed, ‘My aim is to release the dynamism and expressive potential of colour in ways that enable the varied effects of light to influence colour and cause it to be registered as an ever changing complex’ (quoted in Park Gallery 1989, unpaginated).
The various vertical and horizontal layers involved in SQ 6 (1) suggest an interest in the ways in which colour, form and scale may be assessed from different perspectives. In 2005 the art historian Norbert Lynton discussed the spatial configurations of Vaux’s work:
In his three-dimensionally structured paintings, space is real but does not prohibit illusion: the main experience of space comes from physical facts but it is enhanced and sometimes inflected by the formal relationships and their revelation in light. Moreover, these three-dimensional structures can be seen from many angles, and must look good from all angles, though the central viewpoint remains the essential one.
(Lynton 2005, p.60.)
Born in Swindon in 1932 Vaux originally studied for a diploma in chemistry before training at Swindon School of Art (1955–7) and the Slade School of Fine Art in London (1957–60), where he was taught by the British artists Ceri Richards and Keith Vaughan. His early work, characterised by curving bands of colour with a mixture of hard and blurred edges, was influenced by American abstract painters of the post-war period such as Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman and Ellsworth Kelly. Composition: Red and Green 1960 (Tate T13014) was one of two paintings by Vaux included in the group exhibition Situation held at the Royal Society of British Artists Galleries in London in 1960, a seminal event in the history of British abstract art. An increasing interest in exploring colour can be seen in Vaux’s extensive Item series, completed between 1968 and 1975, in which large canvases were coated in a single hue with the exception of a small rectilinear area (or ‘item’) featuring a sequence of other colours (see, for instance, B/3L/73 1973, Tate T01761). From 1978 onwards he began to combine more industrial materials such as cellulose paint and aluminum with acrylics and wood to create relief-like works. In 2003 he began a series of works, which include NE1.1.04 2004 (Tate T13018), that comprise MDF boards painted in a single colour which contain a geometric ‘enclosure’ framed by aluminium casing.
Marc Vaux, exhibition catalogue, Park Gallery, Cheltenham 1989.
Norbert Lynton, Marc Vaux, London 2005, pp.48, 56–69.
Marc Vaux: New Paintings: Triptychs and Ovals, exhibition catalogue, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London 2010.
Supported by Christie’s.