Bob Law

No. 62 (Black/Blue/Violet/Blue)


In Tate St Ives

Bob Law 1934–2004
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 1676 × 1753 mm
Purchased 1976

Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘BOB LAW 1967 NUMBER 62, BLACK BLUE VIOLET BLUE 66" × 69"’ on back
Acrylic on cotton duck, 66 × 69 (167.5 × 175)
Purchased from the Lisson Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1976
Exh: Arte Inglese Oggi, Palazzo Reale, Milan, February–May 1976 (Bob Law pp.140–5,2, repr.)
Lit: ‘Bob Law in Conversation with Richard Cork, April 1974’ in Exh. catalogue Bob Law 10 Black Paintings 1965–70, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, May–June 1974; John A. Walker, ‘Bob Law’ in Studio International, CXCI, 1976, pp.80–1

‘No. 62 (Black/Blue/Violet/Blue)’ is one of a series of paintings which Law started in 1959 and continued until 1974. It was painted in the artist's studio in Richmond. These paintings were known as ‘black’ paintings and had a number of common characteristics. All the paintings were the same size, 66 by 69 inches. ‘That is the size of a man with his arms outstretched, large enough to be peripheral when viewed’ (Conversation with Richard Cork, op cit.). The artist has stressed that each one was painted with the aim of making one single image. He considered each one as a ‘contemplative object’. It was as a means towards this end that he painted a different ‘field’ from ‘edge’. These cannot be distinguished from a distance or from a reproduction, but close examination reveals a difference in colour between the two. This difference arises from varying quantities and colours of the successive coats of paint, which were either brushed over the whole surface or only over the central field. The edge, which borders the field, is on average one and a half inches wide but was not measured in any way. Each completed painting was given a number in sequence followed by three or four of the dominant colours used. The titles act as a resumé of the colours and the order in which they were applied, as well as providing an immediate catalogue for the series.

Each painting was given nine or ten coats, using the colours given in the title (black, blue and violet). The artist said that there was a very high failure rate with this series. Only one painting out of eight or ten would succeed because of the technical difficulty of getting the paint to dry evenly and without fault. Once one coat had failed the whole canvas had to be abandoned. Even when successful each coat took two days to dry. The process of painting involved long periods of contemplation during which the artist would sit in a chair opposite the work in progress, concentrating all his attention on ‘seeing’ the painting. He had to work towards the quality he wanted. After completion every canvas was turned towards the wall in the studio, and Law would start on a fresh canvas determined to make it better, holding only the experience of the previous work in his mind. The overall aim of the series was to find a form of perfection in and from the work.

The origin and sources for the series are documented in the conversation with Richard Cork (op cit.) and the Tate Gallery report 1972–4 catalogue entries for T01774 and T01775. The paintings followed after a period of work in Cornwall, when the images had still been closely related to and drawn from the landscape. In 1959 Law saw the exhibition of American art at the Tate Gallery (The New American Painting, Tate Gallery, February–March 1959) and was impressed. ‘I was really working alone when I did the early work in Cornwall, and seeing the Americans' great expanse of pigment correlated with lots of my ideas’. Ad Reinhardt, who had painted and exhibited black paintings in America since 1957, was not included in the exhibition, and it was not until later that Law was aware of the parallel between their work. At the same time as the paintings he was also making drawings which also use the difference between a field and an edge (see T01774 and T01775). The drawings were either ‘open’ (white) or ‘closed’ (black). The black paintings (like No.62) were made at the same time as the drawings, but he did not make white paintings until 1969 and he continued to paint these after he had finished the series of black paintings.

This catalogue entry is based on conversations with the artist (4 February and 10 June 1977) and has been edited and approved by him.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979

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