To coincide with Sonia Delaunay opening at Tate Modern, we've selected 7 key artworks from our collection at Tate Britain with pattern at their core. If you're pressed for time, this 20 minute tour is sure to inspire.
1. Chin Chin 2011, Caroline Achaintre
Catch the last leg of Caroline Achaintre’s display, curated by Isabella Maidment, ending on May 3rd. Achaintre’s mask-like textile and ceramic pieces cite the crude aesthetics of German Expressionism and primitivism. The influence of tribal culture on the Primitavist movement is clear in Achaintre’s series, which references ancient African totems and reinvents them with a modern, Western perspective. The combination of pleasant colours, soft, shaggy fabrics and smooth glaze makes these sculptures and hangings strangely likeable.
I work with the mask in the widest sense. I was interested in the psychological aspect of what you see in these objects: they have anthropomorphic features, but they are not abstract, and not yet figurative; a multilayering of multi-personalities. Read more here.
View in BP Spotlight: Caroline Achaintre
2. Azalea Garden : May 1956 1956, Patrick Heron
Many of Patrick Heron’s paintings, including Azalea Garden, were inspired by his home at Eagles Nest in Cornwall, as he explains here:
This is a landscape that has altered my life, the house in its setting is the source of all my painting.
Azalea Garden not only marks his transition to a new home, but also to a new style of painting, as it was around this time that Heron began to make a conscious move towards total abstraction. This transition was partly inspired by the 1956 Modern Art in the United States exhibition at Tate Britain. This show included the work of de Kooning, Pollock and Rothko, amongst others. Heron wrote at the time:
I was instantly elated by the size, energy, originality, economy, and inventive daring of many of the paintings. Their creative emptiness represented a radical discovery… I was fascinated by their constant denial of illusionistic depth…
Both Heron’s admiration for non-figurative painting and his great love of Eagle’s Nest inspired this depiction, which he dubbed ‘[the] extraordinary effervescence of flowering azaleas’.
3. Late Morning 1967–8, Bridget Riley
Known for creating complex optical illusions in her work, Late Morning is one of Bridget Riley’s most pared back pieces. Nevertheless the painting is characteristically hallucinatory. By using simple vertical lines, Riley allows the viewer to tune into the movement between carefully chosen colours. These colours interplay more and more the longer you look at them. Another exploration within this painting is the interaction between warm and cold tones which, once placed together, create the impression that the piece is glowing from within.
View in room 1960.
4. Piano 1963, Richard Smith
Richard Smith’s three-dimensional work deliberately exists within the grey area between sculpture and painting:
Since I have always retained a wall, there is no question of a multifaceted sculptural object.
Piano was made at a time when Smith was particularly taken with packaging; which he believed was an ‘incessant theme in present day civilisation’. The cigarette packet was a favourite reference point, and Piano depicts this object in excessive proportions. The shape is at once advancing and receding due to Smith’s experimentation with perspective. This is caused in part by the patterns he has painted over the form. The enormous, abstracted and distorted packet protrudes out from the gallery wall, accosting the viewer with its garish yellow and raw mark making.
In an unpublished interview with Tate, Smith explained that the name Piano came from the sheer, unwieldy bulk of the object:
It was rather like a piano in its room fillingness.
Elsewhere, he commented:
There is something unnerving about a bulky thing that is suspended on the wall… It was like having a sofa over the mantle piece.
Amongst the other paintings in the room, Piano challenges the viewer and awkwardly invades our space- not to be missed.
View in room 1960.
5. Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors) 1971, John Hilliard
Conscious of the inadequacy of one photograph to convey visual reality, John Hilliard began taking whole series’ of pictures. In Camera Recording its Own Condition, Hilliard uses two mirrors to reflect back the image of his camera, an East German Praktica, into its own lens. Photography becomes not only the means to making the work, but the work itself.
By using a variety of different apertures and shutter speeds a gradient is created, from white to almost black, amounting to seventy images in total. Concentrating on the object as a mechanical device, Hilliard imposes a dictated set of conditions which act in sequence to create varying results, with little or no aesthetic intervention. The variables governing the making of the work are indicated by the second part of its title, ‘7 apertures, 10 speeds, 2 mirrors’. The camera is quite literally making a record of itself in all its capacities.
View in room 1970.
6. Destruction of the National Front 1979–80, Eddie Chambers
Eddie Chambers’ series Destruction of the National Front was held, by many, as a leading work within the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s. The movement was formed in response to the racist tensions of the day and as postcolonial expert Ian Baucom explained, artists such as Chambers were struggling ‘to produce a public and vital black British identity’.
While Eddie Chambers was a student, Margaret Thatcher’s Conserative reign began. In response to their racist ideology, he tore a print of the Union Jack into pieces and rearranged it into a Swastika. The Destruction of the National Front depicts this Union Jack cum Swastika’s gradual disintegration into fragments. Whether this is to advocate the destruction of right-wing principles, or to imply the possibility of change, the very physical act of ripping paper, conveyed through these screen-prints, is both emotive and forceful.
View in room 1980.
7. Break Point 1998, Fiona Banner
Fiona Banner was fascinated by the impact of adventure scenes in films which she believes are:
Always stretching the possibilities of the screen, the speed of them … containing what the eye can’t hold, always too fast to see everything.
Break Point is adapted from an action scene from the film Point Break (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1991). Banner recreates the experience of watching the scene on screen with an increasingly jumbled narrative which at once confuses the reader and communicates a sense of the chaos. In a 2009 interview the artist observed that ‘the narrative is kind of scrambled’, conveying the limits of human language:
We’re bound to work with [language] but sometimes it’s not enough, or it’s in the way, and obviously sometimes (in life and in art) it doesn’t work right as a tool for communication.
Banner has taken the fast paced momentum of an action scene and forced the viewer into painstaking deliberation, as she explains:
When it’s translated into words … [the scene] becomes this kind of shaggy-dog story … the opposite of keen imperative momentum.
It may be difficult to follow, but we recommend you take time to stop and slowly digest as much narrative as possible, before wrapping up this 20 Minute Tour.
View in room 1990.
Have a bit more time? Try one of our free, daily guided tours in the gallery