Tomma Abts

Untitled #4


Not on display

Tomma Abts born 1967
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper
Support: 840 × 595 mm
Presented by the artist and greengrassi gallery in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota 2017


Untitled # 4 2014 is a drawing in pencil and coloured pencil on paper. Black and grey stripes meet in slight misalignment to form a fractured, offset square, intersected by white lines created by Abts’s use of shading as well as her decision to leave sections of the paper untouched. The form is placed to the lefthand side of a larger sheet, just above centre. The structure asserts the flatness of the paper on which it is drawn, while simultaneously suggesting a sense of spatiality and depth. Abts uses no source material when she works and begins without a pre-conceived notion of the end result, allowing structures to emerge organically. She has described her finely calibrated compositions as ‘having to do with holding and unfolding the space in the way that every part of the picture plane is active’ (quoted at, accessed 27 January 2017). Comparable drawings also in Tate’s collection are Untitled # 1 2004 (Tate T12759), Untitled # 6 2008 (Tate T13041), Untitled # 8 2008 (Tate T13042) and Untitled # 10 2008 (Tate T13043).

Abts’s drawings are not preparatory works for paintings (for which she makes no preliminary sketches). Unlike the lengthy process of layering and constant readjustment involved in her paintings, her drawings are produced with relative spontaneity, guided only by the internal logic of each composition. This contrast has been described by curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas: ‘Acting as a counterpoint to the methodical progression of the paintings, her colour pencil and biro drawings operate as accelerated exercises in composition. In these, she decides upon a limited set of formal components and a reduced colour scheme, and allows arrangements freely to unfurl across the page in one sitting.’ (Lizzie Carey-Thomas, ‘Tomma Abts’, in Tate Britain 2006, n.p.)

Despite these differences, curator Bob Nickas has written of the common quality which Abts’s particular working process brings to both her painting and drawing practice: ‘In the work of Tomma Abts, there is a purposeful and continuous circling around an activity, to create and regard an image that might otherwise elude being fixed, not so easily articulated yet pursued nonetheless, an image of the process of thought, the triangulation of the hand and the eye and the mind.’ (Bob Nickas, ‘Tomma Abts: Mainly Drawings’, in Aspen Art Museum 2015.)

Further reading
Lizzie Carey-Thomas, Turner Prize 2006, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain 2006.
Lisa Phillips, Bruce Hainley, Laura Hoptman, Tomma Abts, exhibition catalogue, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York 2008.
Bob Nickas, Katy Siegel, Heidi Zuckerman, Tomma Abts: Mainly Drawings, Aspen Art Museum 2015.

Aïcha Mehrez
January 2017

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