Victor Pasmore

The Green Earth


Not on display

Victor Pasmore 1908–1998
Oil paint on canvas on wood
Support: 1238 × 1835 mm
frame: 1230 × 1839 × 32 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

According to Pasmore 'This picture is a completely independent abstract painting and not a landscape abstraction. The title was given after it was painted, to form a poetic metaphor.' It develops a theme explored in a series of paintings made between 1968 and 1976, following Pasmore's move to Malta. He turned from relief construction to a more symbolic content, expressed in colour, shape and line. In the earlier of these works, as here, rounded, organic looking abstract motifs appeared to be held in space by dark rod-like forms. Pasmore also links 'The Green Earth' to very early abstracts, like 'Square Motif, Blue and Gold: The Eclipse', also in this gallery: 'it was one of the first to return to my interest in colour.'

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Victor Pasmore 1908-1998

The Green Earth 1979-80


Oil on canvas on veneered chipboard panel 1022 x 1827 (40 1/4 x 71 15/16)

Inscribed in pencil ‘VP’, lower r.

Purchased from Marlborough Fine Art (Grant-in-Aid) 1980

Victor Pasmore: “The Green Earth”, A New Painting and Other Recent Paintings and Graphics 1978-80, Marlborough Fine Art, London, April-May 1980 (1, repr. in col. p.3)
Victor Pasmore, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn., Nov. 1988-Jan. 1989, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., Feb.-April 1989 (51)

Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.193, repr.
Nigel Gosling, ‘review’, Observer, 4 May 1980, p.17
Norbert Lynton, Victor Pasmore: Paintings and Graphics 1980-92, London 1992, no.P7, pl.4 (col.)

Though painting had remained a significant aspect of Pasmore’s work, from the late 1960s it became increasingly important. Frequently, painting and relief elements were combined in a single work. His work of the 1970s can be divided into two broad categories: those dominated by a meandering line and those made up of large, biomorphic forms of strong colour. The Green Earth developed out of the latter group, which, in turn, had its origins in the more monolithic forms of paintings like Yellow Abstract (Tate Gallery T00411). The extension of an element of the painting on to the back board - in The Green Earth a black dot on the right hand side - is equally typical of the work of that period. Pasmore saw this, like the extended forms in reliefs like Synthetic Construction (Tate Gallery T00784), as a means of extending the painting into real space in defiance of the Renaissance concept of the picture. In an interview in 1996 he said that his desire for a sense of horizontal expansion also informed the choice of wooden veneer for the support.[1]

The Green Earth was made in Malta. The artist has insisted that there was no conscious connection between his painting and place but he acknowledged that ‘subconsciously the environment and weather of Malta have influenced the imagery of my work’. The main forms of the painting were drawn in blue pencil on a commercially prepared canvas before they were painted. A second coat of darker gloss paint was applied to most of them with a spray-gun or airbrush, resulting in the mottled effect especially evident towards the top of the canvas. Enough of the darker green was applied for it to form dribbles in places. The two forms towards the left hand side were not sprayed and so remain lighter in tone. In some places, most evidently on the left hand side, white paint was applied around the green forms. The black linear elements were drawn in pencil prior to painting. The two white blobs - one with lilac over it, the other with yellow - and the diffused black form on the right hand side of the canvas were also painted with a spray-gun. In his interview Pasmore thought it likely that the canvas had been stuck down after it was painted; holes in its four corners, suggesting it was pinned up at some point, are consistent with that suggestion. It sustained some studio damage to its edges and in the area of the central lilac form, possibly before it was painted.

Pasmore said that works like this were sometimes drawn out first and on other occasions painted spontaneously;[2] the main forms of The Green Earth were evidently mapped out before painting. The red dot towards the right hand side of the canvas and the black dot on the veneer each appear to have been painted with a single brushstroke; however, pencil marks show that they too were drawn before painting. Nevertheless, the forms were defined by the organic principles which had dominated Pasmore’s work since the late 1940s. These biomorphic shapes, apparently defined in response to each other, are particularly indebted to d’Arcy Thomspon’s theory that growth and natural forces determine organic form.[3]

An earlier Tate Gallery catalogue entry recorded that Pasmore saw The Green Earth as a return to the concern with colour seen in earlier works such as Spiral Motif, Green, Violet, Blue and Gold: The Coast of the Inland Sea (Tate Gallery N06191)and Square Motif, Blue and Gold The Eclipse (Tate Gallery N05974).[4] As with those works, the title The Green Earth was not descriptive but ‘given after [the work] was painted to form a poetic metaphor’. In this way it is, like the earlier titles, Whistlerian in its intention. Other aspects of the work are equally consistent with Pasmore’s practice over an extended period of time. The attachment of the canvas to a boldly patterned support illustrates the belief in the objectivity of the work of art that had originally prompted his move into relief. The use of a spray-gun, which he has employed increasingly since the 1970s, allowed him to develop his well-established improvisatory working methods. The continuity of his practice demonstrates, amongst other things, the persistent influence of Paul Klee. That influence is also seen in the linearity of Pasmore’s later paintings, which are resonant with Klee’s concept of ‘an active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal’.[5] Like Klee’s, Pasmore’s work has been consistenly based upon natural principles.

The Green Earth was the basis for the print Vigna Antoniniana, 1980, named after a print making studio in Rome.[6]

Chris Stephens
Feb. 1998

[1] Interview with the author, 4 June 1996
[2] Ibid.
[3] d’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, On Growth and Form, 1917, 2nd ed. Cambridge 1942
[4] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.193
[5] Paul Klee, Pedagogical Sketchbook, London 1968, p.16
[6] Norbert Lynton, Victor Pasmore: Paintings and Graphics 1980-92, London 1992, no.G9

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