Alan Charlton

Channel Painting No. 6


Not on display

Alan Charlton born 1948
Household paint on canvas
Support: 2220 × 1990 mm
Purchased 1984

Display caption

Alan Charlton’s paintings are always grey and he uses a systematic method to calculate their size and structure. Since they are purged of all extraneous detail, Charlton’s canvases draw attention to the space in which they are shown. This redefines the traditional relationship between artwork and viewer, since it is the spatial environment as well as the two-dimensional canvas which together provide meaning.

The precision of Charlton’s restrained canvases contrasts with the variable conditions of the different environments in which they are hung. Consequently, each time his paintings are exhibited, they offer the visitor a very different viewing experience.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Alan Charlton born 1948

T03894 Channel Painting No. 6 1975

Acrylic on canvas, 2220 x 1990 (87 3/8 x 78 3/8)
Inscribed ‘ALAN CHARLTON' 1975/No. 6 INNER PIECE 77" 67 3/4 /OUTER PIECE 87 1/2" 78 1/4' on back stretcher bar. Purchased from Konrad Fischer Gallery, Düsseldorf (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Exh: Alan Charlton 9 Channel Paintings, Each Exhibited Simultaneously in 9 British City Art Galleries, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, Oct.-Nov.1977 (no number, repr. p.13); Alan Charlton, Channel Paintings, Michele Lachowsky Gallery, Brussels Feb. 1980 (no cat.); Alan Charlton; Selected Paintings 1969-1981, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, May-June 1982 (3, repr p.21)

Unless stated otherwise, this entry is based on an interview with Alan Charlton (6 April 1988) and has been approved by him.

This work was made in London. Charlton always keeps notes during the various stages through which he works to complete a painting and in the case of T03894 these indicate that he made the work between June and September 1975.

Charlton makes only grey paintings. He always uses a standard measure, 4.5 cms (which equals the depth, including stretchers and canvas overlap, of all his paintings) as the basic module from which to calculate the size of each work and the divisions within it. In 1975, before he began to use decimal calculation, he was working to a basic unit of 1 3/4 inches. In this painting, the depth of the work and the width of the channel both separately equal 4.5 cms. Between 1972 and 1975, Charlton made what he describes as ‘Channel Paintings'. These are paintings that consist of two parts, an inner canvas surface, surrounded by a separate outer ‘frame' of the same canvas, both sections unified by their identical colouring. T03894 is the sixth work in the last series of channel paintings made. This series consisted of a set of nine works.

The artist previously made similar sets exploring various permutations; for example, in one set exhibited at the Sperone Fischer Gallery in Rome in February 1974 (no catalogue), the channels were much nearer to the centre of each painting. In a series of eight works, that directly preceded the set to which T 03894 belongs, made in 1973 and exhibited at the Konrad Fischer Gallery, Düsseldorf (December 1973 - January 1984, no catalogue), each surface was a different grey but all the dimensions were the same.

In the set to which T03894 belongs, each work was painted a different grey, ranging in colour and tonality from light to dark, and each was a different format. Charlton calculated the size progressively using the basic unit 9 cms (2 x 4.5 cms, which is the point from which all his calculations are made). The first catalogue listed above illustrates all nine works in the series and these progress from obviously horizontal (nos 1, 2, 3) to obviously vertical compositions (nos 7, 8, 9). The artist has given the dimensions of the works in the set from his records. These are: 1. 70 x 96 1/4 inches; 2. 73 1/2 x 92 3/4; 3. 77 x 89 1/4; 4. 80 1/2 x 85 3/4; 5. 84 x 82 1/2; 6. 87 1/2 x 78 3/4 (T03894 - the measurement given at the begining of the entry is that recorded by the Tate Gallery Conservation Department); 7. 91 x 75 1/4; 8. 94 1/2 x 71 3/4; 9. 98 x 68 1/4.

According to Charlton, there was nothing particularly unusual in the way these paintings were made; he builds each one up layer by layer, to six layers of paint. He has no comment to make on the title in this particular case, except to indicate that all his titles relate directly and descriptively to the physical form of the work in question. This work can only be shown in one specified orientation, indicated by the orientation of the inscription on the back. Discussing his working method, Charlton confirmed that he makes drawings for all his paintings, starting from rough sketches and working up to accurate blueprints. For the set of paintings that includes T03894, he made the usual preliminary sketches and then drew diagrams for all nine works in nine rows of three on one imperial sized drawing. As each painting was to be a different grey, he attached nine small swatches, each one inch square, to the bottom right hand side of the drawing and, at bottom left, listed the nine places in which the works were to be exhibited. He then repeated the drawing nine times in pencil, outlining a different figure (from No. 1 to No. 9) on each. Each was exhibited alongside the painting to which it most directly alluded, on the occasion of each work's first exhibition, but each drawing simultaneously provided information about the other (absent) works in the series. After the first set of exhibitions (Alan Charlton, 9 Channel Paintings) the drawings were brought together as a set (Collection Konrad Fischer Gallery, Düsseldorf).

Previously, Charlton has made a point of showing his paintings together in series (see, for example the installation photographs on pp.1-4, 8, 12, 16 etc. in the 1983 Eindhoven exhibition catalogue). Here he decided to exhibit works in the municipal galleries of nine British cities. He deliberately selected more traditional sites for this nine-part exhibition and he personally approached nine galleries from Scotland to the South of England. Charlton has said that the exhibition was intended to anticipate the future of the works, in that inevitably the series would be split up eventually and an understanding of the whole (that is, the series) would depend on the viewer's appreciation of the existence of, rather than a physical confrontation with, all nine works.

The Art Galleries that took part, listed by numerical order of painting were: Aberdeen City Art Gallery (No. 1); Cheltenham City Art Gallery (No. 2); Kircaldy City Museum and Art Gallery (No. 3); Leeds City Art Gallery (No. 4); Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery (No. 5); Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne (No. 6); Portsmouth City Museum and Art Gallery (No. 7); Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield (No. 8); City Museum and Art Gallery, Southampton (No. 9). The catalogue for the joint exhibition lays out the works in the above order and provides an illustration of each. Charlton visited each gallery to install each painting over a series of ten consecutive days. The works were on view simultaneously from 22nd October to 12th November 1977.

The Channel paintings have their origins in a series of ‘Slot', paintings that immediately preceded them (1971-2). In these, Charlton experimented with narrow vertical or horizontal apertures or hollow lines made through the surface of each work. For the ‘Channel Paintings', these apertures were joined up to create ‘inner' and ‘outer' sections. For Charlton this marked a major departure in his work in that it was the first time that his paintings were made from more than one physical part.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.122-3


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