Richard Patterson

Painted Minotaur


Not on display

Richard Patterson born 1963
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2083 × 1582 × 52 mm
Purchased with assistance from Evelyn, Lady Downshire's Trust Fund 1997


Painted Minotaur is a large oil painting featuring a yellow figurine of a minotaur standing within a vertically oriented rectangular opening in a wooden structure. The scene is painted in a realistic style that features a very high level of detail. Both the figure and the wood surrounding it are depicted as if covered with viscous daubs of paint in multiple, although predominantly blue, tones, yet despite the illusionistic thickness of the daubs, these areas, like the rest of the work, are painted very thinly. The figure of the minotaur faces away from the viewer and slightly to the left, and the background is blurred in a manner that suggests it to be out of focus, giving the scene a photographic appearance that enhances its realism. A strong grain can be seen on the exposed wood of sections of the structure and reflections of light are suggested by bright patches on many of the depicted blobs and swathes of paint.

This painting was made by the British artist Richard Patterson during 1996 and 1997, when he was living and working in London. It was painted on a tautly stretched canvas with a close weave that appears to have been primed using acrylic paint. To form the scene, Patterson applied many thin layers of oil paint to the primed canvas, sometimes letting them dry and sometimes working wet-on-wet, and this multi-layered approach has led to significant variations in surface gloss.

The original minotaur was a violent creature found in ancient Greek mythology that had the body of a man and the head of a bull and lived in an elaborate, maze-like construction named the Labyrinth. In 1997 Patterson stated that the figurine in this painting was based on ‘a plastic minotaur’ that he ‘picked up … in a shop years and years ago’ and that the wooden structure represents the artist’s easel (Patterson in Anthony d’Offay Gallery 1997, pp.22, 28).

Painted Minotaur is the fourth in a group of paintings begun in 1996 that each depict the same plastic figure facing away from the viewer, the first being Minotaur 1996 (Whitworth Gallery, Manchester). In the work owned by Tate, the painting’s title emphasises the fact that here, unlike in the remainder of the group, the figurine is shown daubed with paint, but it also refers to the minotaur as itself being ‘painted’ onto the canvas. Patterson has depicted figurines in many of his other works, including an earlier group that all show a small plastic motorcyclist (see, for instance, Motocrosser 1994, Arts Council Collection, London). The artist worked from photographs of the motorcyclist figure when making the earlier group, but it is not clear whether that is also the case with his paintings of the plastic minotaur, although this does seem to be suggested by the blurred areas of this work that resemble unfocused sections of a photographic image (see Toby Kamps, ‘An Honest Man’, in Toby Kamps, Richard Patterson, Martin Herbert and others 2013, p.12).

In 1997 Patterson stated that the minotaur figurine used as a source for this painting was ‘quite well modelled in many ways; it was quite a manly little toy, except it didn’t have any genitals, which seemed sad. Even his face seemed sad, as if in mourning for his lost genitals … I chose to paint the back view of the minotaur because I didn’t want the viewer to know that he was castrated’ (Patterson in Anthony d’Offay Gallery 1997, p.22). Furthermore, the critic Stuart Morgan has suggested that the minotaur appears to be a melancholy or even ‘tragic’ figure, writing that ‘The loneliness and frailty of the yellow creature gazing into the distance made a stark contrast to its powerful musculature and horns’ (Stuart Morgan, ‘Tonight We Improvise’, in Anthony d’Offay Gallery 1997, p.11).

Morgan has also argued that this work reflects on the relationship between representation and abstraction, claiming that it is ‘a painting of paint itself’. He wrote that the ‘gooey’ paint depicted on the minotaur ‘served as shorthand for abstraction but was not ... rendered as three-dimensionally as possible’, such that it can clearly be seen as a representation of viscous pigment, rather than this substance itself (Morgan 1997, pp.10–11). Discussing his practice in general in 1997, Patterson stated that ‘Most people are happy to see both abstraction and figuration in painting, but not the conjunction of the two ... I am trying to put these two very different visual languages together in a single painting and see if they can work’ (quoted in Anthony d’Offay Gallery 1997, p.42).

Further reading
False Impressions, exhibition catalogue, British School at Rome, Rome 1997, p.24, reproduced p.27.
Paintings by Richard Patterson, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1997, pp.10, 11, 22, 24, 28, 44, 47, reproduced p.29.
Toby Kamps, Richard Patterson, Martin Herbert and others, Richard Patterson, London 2013, p.56, reproduced p.57.

David Hodge
April 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

Richard Patterson takes miniature toy figures, smears them with multicoloured paint and then photographs them against a variety of backgrounds. These photos are in turn daubed with more pigment. Patterson's large-scale paintings are meticulous copies of the resulting photographs.

The blurred background contrasts with the painstaking detail of the minotaur and the paint splashes. This confuses the distinction between abstract and representational areas of paint. By enlarging his little minotaur to grandiose proportions, Patterson gives a kitsch, plastic toy both sinister and slightly absurd overtones.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting is on a tightly woven cotton duck canvas. Thin layers of oil paint have been applied a white acrylic priming. Only a little brush marking is present, mainly in the slightly thicker paint or in areas where additional binder has been added and the paint has a glossier surface. Very thin paint films have proven the most durable over the centuries which is encouraging for this work.

No varnish has been applied by the artist as is usual for a painting this newly made. However, the play of matt and gloss surface may well be an intended effect that would be drastically altered were varnish to applied. The painting is in excellent condition.

Tim Green
November 1997

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