Stephen Buckley



Not on display

Stephen Buckley born 1944
Oil paint on wood, canvas and board
Support: 1524 × 1829 × 70 mm
Purchased 1976

Display caption

Buckley's concern to expose the physical structure of a work can be seen in many of his paintings. In 'Triptych' this concern with structure and process was extended. The work demonstrates Buckley's wish, while making a painting, not to discard any materials but to employ all the intended components. Despite being composed of two units, 'Triptych' is so named because it originally consisted of three panels. During the making of the painting, these were dismembered and rearranged in order to create the work's present appearance. This idea also connects with the historical convention whereby triptychs were constructed so that they could be folded into a smaller format.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T02024 TRIPTYCH 1974

Inscribed on reverse of right-hand section ‘Stephen Buckley/1974/TRIPTYCH Right panel/facing’ and ‘A→’, t.r; and on reverse of left-hand section ‘A Left/panel/facing Stephen Buckley/1974’ and ‘TRIPTYCH’.
Relief construction of oil on interwoven canvas strips, partly sewn with garden twine, on wood battens, 60×72×2 3/4 (152.5×183×7).
Purchased from Kasmin Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1976
Exh: Kasmin Ltd stand, International Art Fair, Swiss Industries Fair Hall, Basle, June 1975; Waddington Galleries II, January–February 1976 (no catalogue)
Lit: Fenella Crichton, ‘London Letter’, in Art International, XX, March–April 1976, p.44

The following account is based on the artist's replies in conversation on 30 March 1977 and has been approved by him.

Triptych’ was made at Brede, Sussex, where he was then living. At the same time, he was working on ‘Ça Va’, ‘Shingles’ and ‘Akenside’. All four of these works were constructed out of discrete panels which Buckley had fabricated to conform to a particular module which enabled them to fit, when disassembled, into the back of his car.

‘Triptych’ consists of two upright sections or ‘panels’ of equal dimensions, presented in a relationship that cannot be rearranged. The right-hand panel prominently displays the word ‘TRIPTYCH’ (painted centre right). The final form of the work is the result of Buckley's first making three panels, each of oil on interwoven strips of canvas and each of the same outer dimensions as the present two, and then dismembering and rearranging them. A three-panel work was thus compressed into a two panel format. Buckley titled and inscribed the work ‘Triptych’ in recognition both of its being essentially a three panel work despite its having the format of a diptych, and of the frequency with which, over the centuries, triptychs have been so constructed as to facilitate their arrangement into formats which are more compressed than an immovable lateral arrangement of three panels would be. When this is the case, the ‘backs’ of the panels are sometimes seen as surfaces that are part of the work in their own right; this occurs in ‘Triptych’ also, where canvas is, in two places, stitched back to reveal its underside. A concern to make not only the surface attributes but also the inner physical structure of a work apparent to the spectator runs through Buckley's work. It can be seen in ‘Trullisatio’ 1972 (T.1685), where the canvas is penetrated at more than one point and is tacked back all round its edge to expose the stretcher. ‘Triptych’ exemplifies a further continuous concern in Buckley's working process, the wish never to discard any materials that have once been taken up with a view to their being incorporated in a work of art and indeed, if possible, to employ them all (as here) in the work for which they were first brought into play. Though each of the three original panels from which ‘Triptych’ developed was dismembered, part of the work's intended content is the fact of each of these panels still being present in full. The closest precedent for ‘Triptych’ in Buckley's work was ‘Beaky’ 1974 (72×110 in., private collection), which was made by dismembering four ‘panels’ of equal size and rearranging them into a triptych format.

In their original form immediately before dismemberment, the panels were of virtually identical flat (apart from the fact that the surface was of interwoven strips) structure. Of the two panels which provide the basic ground against which the relief elements are set in the final work, the greater part of the structure survives in its original position. If we call the left-hand of these panels Panel 1, the right-hand one Panel 2 and the third panel (which is no longer ‘in place’) Panel 3, the dismembering and rearranging were done as follows (not necessarily in this sequence). A section was cut from the top left corner of Panel 1 and was laid, another way up, over the bottom left corner of Panel 2. A section was cut from the top left corner of Panel 2 (eventually to be laid over the top right corner of Panel 1). By means of a horizontal cut, Panel 3 was divided into two almost equal sections, of which the lower section was then itself divided into two sections which, however, were of irregular shapes. Of these, the left-hand piece was laid in the top left of Panel 2, but its descending ‘limb’ was folded concertina-fashion and stitched back to reveal part of its reverse as well as part of the gap created by the removal of the original top left of Panel 2. The remainder of the lower half of Panel 3 was laid, a different way up, over the bottom left corner of Panel 1. The upper half of Panel 3 was laid over the upper half of Panel 1, but its lower canvas edge was stitched back, once more to reveal an underside and part of the gap created by an earlier removal. When this had been done, the original top left section of Panel 2 was laid, a different way up, over the top right corner of Panel 1.

Immediately before dismemberment, each of the original three ‘panels’ had been painted in its own individual combination of colours, on the horizontal ‘brick’-like pattern that dominates the final work. Buckley thinks that each panel probably consisted of ‘bricks’ in Flesh Tint alternating with ones in one other colour per panel, probably yellow in Panel 1, red in Panel 2 and blue in Panel 3. However, along the horizontal centre-line of the three panels, each alternate ‘brick’ was painted white. The distribution of these white marks on the pieces of canvas they occupied was retained in the final work. However, after the pieces of canvas had been given their final positions, every visible ‘brick’ in the work was overpainted, either with its existing colour or with a new one. Buckley thinks it was only at this stage that green paint was introduced. Finally, wherever a piece of canvas had been repositioned not on its original axis, Buckley overpainted it with horizontal black lines which, while not effacing the pattern it already displayed, looked it into the conflicting pattern which it now partially overlaid, by continuing one of the unifying visual features of the whole work. The only places where he did not do this were where the canvas was concertinaed or showed its underside. When a section of panel was placed in a new position it sometimes retained the sections of stretcher to which it had been attached, and sometimes not. Where sections of stretcher were retained, the re-positioned section of panel was attached by nails. Where no sections of stretcher were retained, the repositioned canvas was nailed wherever it now overlaid part of original stretcher. It was also stitched with green garden twine along certain edges where it overlaid otherwise unsupported canvas.

There were no studies or drawings, but in 1977 Buckley made a related work measuring 12 1/2×14 1/2 in., in which four square canvases arranged to form a square were partially and equally overlaid by a fifth which, placed on a diagonal axis, held them all together by being attached to them, after which the whole was dismembered and rearranged.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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