The early and mid-1960s saw a radical reappraisal of painting and sculpture. Artists explored new types of imagery and materials, spurred by a growing interest in theories of communication.
Previously, painting had dealt with elevated themes such as landscape and the human condition. Now, whether abstract or figurative, compositions could be fragmented, the paint surface could be flat and any subject was worthy of attention.
In sculpture, Anthony Caro introduced new, open forms constructed from welded steel and sitting directly on the floor. Others explored new materials like plastic and fibreglass, painted in strong colours. Later artists introduced soft materials, movement and elements such as bubbles and light.
Bowling made Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman? work whilst living in New York. Its three loosely-painted vertical stripes offer a light-hearted parody of the work of Barnett Newman. At a time of continuing colonial unrest and decolonisation, it was unique in offering a political comment.
Caulfield’s paintings are conspicuously devoid of any incident. He reduced his subjects to the sparest of forms and painted them in the most simple way. The paint itself is flat and without incident, like household woodwork. The motifs are usually painted with bold black outlines reminiscent of cartoons such as Hergé’s Tintin. Here, the typical subject of a vase becomes a pattern of black and white.
Tucker was amongst a group of sculptors who studied at St Martin’s School of Art and who were associated with the New Generation exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. This group used a variety of materials to develop brightly coloured and witty works which explored new aspects of sculpture. The transparency of Tucker’s perspex challenges the solidity of traditional sculpture.
Barker made sculpture from everyday objects which he bought and had covered in chrome This gives them an elevated status and makes them seem almost illusions. By investing such mundane objects with added value, he focuses the attention on the everyday modern world around us.