Basil Beattie



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Basil Beattie born 1935
Lithograph on paper
Image: 573 × 775 mm
Purchased 1985

Catalogue entry

Basil Beattie born 1935

P77110 Circus 1984

Lithograph 573 x 775 (22 9/16 x 30 1/2) on T.H. Saunders paper, same size; printed by John White at Curwen Studio and published by Curwen Prints in an edition of 24
Inscribed ‘Basil Beattie' b.r., ‘Circus' bottom centre and ‘16/24' b.l.
Purchased from Curwen Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1985

This entry is based on a conversation between the artist and the compiler on 29 January 1988, and has been approved by the artist.

‘Circus' and one other lithograph, ‘Breathe in Deep' 1984, were Basil Beattie's first exercises in lithography. ‘Breathe in Deep' preceded P77110. It is in black and white and has a loosely squared-up format in which the individual components or ‘cells' contain images which are not specifically symbolic but have a ‘kind of symbolic resonance'. ‘Circus' is closely related to ‘Breathe in Deep' in so far as it echoes the format of a single cell in the latter. In contrast to the preceding work ‘Circus' is in brilliant colour: green, blue, yellow and red. Unlike his paintings of the period, with their dense, almost claustrophobic, patterning of colour and shape, Beattie wanted to keep P77110 very simple and exploit the white of the paper, for ‘there's a temptation for the artist to cover the whole of the surface of a painting with paint but in a drawing or in a print it feels natural to allow the white to "read" as an integral part of the work'.

The print registers ‘four different colour dynamics with different shape dynamics' and although the artist has stated that ‘colour is subservient to shape' he ‘didn't want the image to take on a sharp reference to geometry'. For this reason the platonic brotherhood of circle, triangle and square is deliberately avoided. The black edging strip around the image is a framing device establishing an artificial boundary within which ‘some kind of behavioural script' is acted out. The three substantial forms are conducting a ‘flirtation' with the border and the triangle ‘has the capability of penetrating it, of floating through and off'.

The title of P77110 was established after the image was complete. It refers the image, by analogy, to the ritualistic form of the circus where people and animals are cast in roles and act them out within a confined space. The title is intended to echo the optimistic overtones of the image and also the humorous predicament of these shapes ‘floating around and apparently captive within a frame'.

Beattie, in retrospect, sees this first venture into lithography as important to his work as a painter for ‘in a curious way it allowed me to rethink my way of making images and led to a new kind of freedom'. In particular, a recent mural, ‘Magic City', 1987, commissioned by the Newcastle Metro, is closely related to the colour/shape dynamic explored in ‘Circus'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.312-13

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