David Austen

Untitled 12.9.02


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Not on display

David Austen born 1960
Gouache on paper
Support: 415 × 298 mm
Purchased with funds provided by The Ampersand Foundation in memory of Michael Stanley 2013


This is one of a group of four gouaches by David Austen in Tate’s collection that date from 2002; each has the date of its making as part of its title – Untitled 20.3.02 (Tate T13904), Untitled 17.7.02 (Tate T13906), Untitled 12.09.02 (Tate T13907) and Untitled 16.10.02 (Tate T13905). They depict a series of ambiguous abstract forms that could be associated with body parts or other organic forms. In Untitled 20.3.02 two black semi-oval shapes, one in the top righthand corner and the other in the bottom lefthand corner, advance towards the centre of the composition like two tongues. In Untitled 16.10.02 a semi-oval blue shape that resembles a tongue hangs down from the top of the sheet, taking up most of the paper’s surface. Untitled 17.7.02 depicts a green rounded form that could be read as a stomach, while the black elongated shapes that form Untitled 12.9.02 recall mutilated limbs. Sitting somewhere between figuration and abstraction, these images are characterised by a formal simplicity that emphasises the texture of the gouache in which they are painted. The technique of isolating a simple motif against a paler ground recalls the abstract forms of Austen’s earlier works on paper – such as Untitled (Jean Vigo) 14.3.96 1996 (Tate T13903) – while looking forwards to the figurative watercolours he produced a decade later, such as Apollo and Marsyas 26.4.11 2011 (Tate T13910).

Urban loneliness, disturbing dreams, death and bleak, existential despair are predominating themes in Austen’s work, which he combines with a visual language that carries a strongly hand-crafted and elemental sense concerned with the mechanics and dynamics of expression, representation and the way images are read. Much of the artist’s source material is derived from observations of the everyday world around him: a chance remark, a book cover, crime thrillers or a newspaper headline that, removed from its original context, is invested with new meaning. Austen often changes from one media to another and his approaches to his subject matter vary accordingly. However, these common concerns run through different strands of his practice, establishing a strong relationship between the themes and forms explored in his works on paper and his large-scale oil paintings as well as his photographs and films.

Further reading
David Austen: Paintings and Works on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Mead Gallery, Warwick Art Centre, Coventry, September–October 1997.
David Austen, exhibition catalogue, Milton Keynes Gallery, February–March 2007.
David Austen: End of Love, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford, December 2010–February 2011.

Carmen Juliá
August 2013

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Display caption

Since 1990 Austen has produced many works on paper depicting a single organic form isolated on a pale, monochrome ground. Sometimes recognisably figures, sometimes wholly abstract, or between the two, these images are characterised by a formal simplicity emphasising the texture of the gouache or watercolour with which they are painted.

Gallery label, September 2016

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