Avis Newman



Not on display

Avis Newman born 1946
2 tables, paint on canvas, 2 portfolios and lithographs on paper
Overall display dimensions variable
Presented in memory of Adrian Ward-Jackson by Weltkunst Foundation 2013


The installation Compass 1992–3 is made up of four parts, comprising a diptych of two large square canvases (each 2540 by 2540 millimetres) and two identical tables (each 690 by 750 by 750 millimetres) which are placed symmetrically in front of the canvases. On the tables are piles of lithographic prints. The symmetry of the installation is slightly offset by the arrangement of the prints on the tables: four sets of lithographs are laid on the left table and six sets on the right, so that the piles on the right are slightly taller. According to the artist the four sets on the left refer to the four elements of the biblical Book of Creation and the six sets on the right refer to the six dimensions in space. All ten are a metaphor for the structure of all things in the universe.

Both the canvases are covered in graphite and have been overlaid with semi-opaque washes of zinc-white paint. This deliberate process highlights the slow progression from dark to light, as well as the changing nature of the canvases through the artist’s process. The prints are numbered from zero to nine, using the letters O and I – so from O to IIIIIIIII – in black ink. Newman often explores the inscriptive and linguistic ideas of mark-making and the page as a surface for those marks. In this piece the use of letters to represent numbers, which requires the process of counting, could refer to literacy and mathematical language, but also to the infinite permutations of two simple symbols. The composition of the installation maintains an overall equilibrium that is constructed through a range of light and dark contrasting elements. The title of the work refers to the tapering legs of the tables, which are shaped like mathematical compasses.

Compass 1992–3 belongs to a body of work that Newman began in the1990s, when she increased the use of objects in her work and focused mostly on the tensions that exist between materiality and the immateriality of thought. Earlier works such as The Wing of the Wind of Madness 1982 (Tate T07164) and Sensible Ellipse of Lost Origin 1985–6 (Tate T07166) display a painting style that is more gestural and reliant on natural and organic forms. Compass, in contrast, has a more structural and symmetrical presence. Newman’s work is consistently concerned with the notion of drawing as the nearest operation to thought. She has said, ‘I think essentially my concerns are the notion of the origin of mark-making; the pictorial space; the origin of materiality and its essential symbolic language.’ (Quoted in an interview with William Furlong on Wimbledon College of Art, London homepage, http://raw.wimbledon.ac.uk/?q=node/25, accessed July 2013.)

Further reading
Avis Newman, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London, November–December 1988.
‘Avis Newman’, Breaking the Mould, British Art of the 1980s and 1990s. The Weltkunst Collection, exhibition catalogue, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin 1997, p.100.

Leyla Fakhr
July 2013

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