Noel Forster

Red, Yellow and Blue 2


Not on display

Noel Forster 1932–2007
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 2440 × 3050 mm
Presented by the artist's estate 2014


Red, Yellow and Blue 2 1967 is a large landscape-format painting in acrylic on canvas by the British artist Noel Forster. The painting consists of a lattice or grid of red, yellow, blue and white lines or blocks of colour drawn freehand on the canvas. While the horizontal lines near the top of the composition are, broadly speaking, level, the lines gradually curve slightly downwards tracing the natural arc of the sweep of an arm over the canvas. Similarly, the vertical lines at the left edge of the composition are perpendicular but, moving towards the right edge, they start to curve out to the bottom right for similar reasons. Although the grid is complete at the bottom right hand corner of the painting, there are increasing areas both up the right edge of the painting and along the bottom edge of the painting towards its left corner which are just made up of horizontal lines or vertical lines. The painting is thus essentially formed according to a system, but with the inbuilt error of the natural curvature of the movement of the painter’s arm.

Through the 1950s Forster made paintings that were the result of observation and records of the play of natural light. During the period in which he was teaching on the Ealing College of Art ‘Groundcourse’ with Roy Ascott (born 1934), this developed into a manipulation of light itself, using light projection and coloured gels. Forster explained that the area of the course at Ealing that he was responsible for was ‘defined as light-handling and behaviour studies. This represented for me an attempt to study physical performance and to make light concrete in an environmental way.’ (‘Artist’s statement’, in Camden Arts Centre 1971, unpaginated.)

In paintings made after leaving Ealing in 1964, Forster continued with his aim of painting evocations of light by using what he described as a ‘unit of behaviour’ (untitled note, Kunsthalle Basel 1975, unpaginated) as the basis for each work – this unit being a line painted freehand across a canvas with other lines adjoining or crossing to create a grid, with the grid incorporating the creative error of a natural swing, as seen here. He explained, ‘The colour showed where performance had departed from idea, and these pictures seemed to approach the natural condition of standardisation without loss of individuality, in which for example each leaf on a single tree or every blade of grass from a single species grow differently.’ (‘Artist’s statement’, in Camden Arts Centre 1971, unpaginated.) This ‘unit of behaviour’ was a direct development from his time teaching on the Groundcourse, which was itself largely structured through ideas of behaviourism, cybernetics, linguistics and an approach to learning through problem-solving.

Although Forster’s non-figurative painting springs from a deep study of past artistic traditions since the Renaissance – for example, his paintings in the 1950s that were his first to be concerned with light also emerged from a study of the seventeenth-century painter Rembrandt (1606–1669) – his concern with behaviour, performance and the material illusion of systematic abstract painting to evoke natural effects also place him close to European and American artists such as Alan Charlton, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter and Robert Ryman. From another perspective, a correspondence can also be discerned between Forster’s paintings and the serial music of Terry Riley, in which complexity is achieved through the repetition of a sequence of simple motifs. Throughout his career Forster maintained a close relationship with contemporary music, most especially with John Tilbury, and through him with Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff and Cornelius Cardew. Tilbury and Forster taught together at Walthamstow School of Art in the 1960s, and Forster recalled how Tilbury ‘held lunchtime concerts there, where the musical performance was considerably extended into the scoring of common-life behaviour’ (David Ryan, ‘Noel Foster’, export/html/327, accessed 30 October 2013).

Red, Yellow and Blue 2 1967 was exhibited in Forster’s second solo exhibition, which was held at the Greenwich Theatre Gallery, London in 1967. The painting was subsequently exhibited in solo exhibitions at Camden Arts Centre, London in 1971, Kunsthalle, Basel in 1975 and Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1976.

Further reading
Noel Forster Survey 71, exhibition catalogue, Camden Arts Centre, London 1971.
Noel Forster, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Basel 1975, reproduced, unpaginated.
Stephen Bann, ‘A Propos of Noel Forster’, Artscribe, no.21, January 1980, reproduced p.28.

Andrew Wilson
October 2013

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