R. H. Quaytman

Still Life


Not on display

R. H. Quaytman born 1961
Acrylic ink, varnish, diamond dust and gesso on wood
Support: 508 × 305 × 20 mm
Presented by the artist 2013


Still Life 2012–13 is a small abstract painting made using acrylic ink, varnish, ‘diamond dust’ and gesso on a wood panel by the American artist R.H. Quaytman. It is one of a number of paintings in which the artist has used ground glass, or ‘diamond dust’, in order to give the surface a glittery quality which both attracts the eye and sets up reflections that repel vision. It features a central poured white shape over a slightly wider area of brown against a black ground. In the bottom right corner the black ground tapers away from the edge of the panel to reveal the gesso. This effect is replicated to a lesser extent in the bottom left corner. The painting was made by the artist as part of a group of works in Tate’s collection and can be shown either with them or independently. The other works are: Spine, Chapter 20 2010 (Tate T14262), Spine, Chapter 20 (Ark) 2010 (Tate T14261), Spine, Chapter 20 2010 (Tate T14263), Spine, Chapter 20 (iamb / Graham) 2010 (Tate T14264), Spine Chapter 20 (The Sun) 2001–10 (Tate T14265) and Cherchez Holopherne, Chapter 21 2011 (Tate T14267).

Since the late 1990s Quaytman has been making paintings on plywood panels. The panels are fabricated with bevelled edges so that the picture plane stands out from the wall. She works with seven different sizes of panels. The size of six of these is determined by a system of proportion based on the golden section: each smaller panel multiplies by 1.618 to form the size of the next largest panel. The panels are prepared with layers of gesso and all the larger paintings are then silkscreened. Quaytman usually paints a single trompe l’oeil strip, or a series of strips, over the silkscreened image: this strip is a painted depiction of the plywood layers on the side of the panel. Quaytman also makes smaller hand-painted panels which she calls ‘Captions’.

From 2001 onwards Quaytman has produced paintings in groups that she refers to as ‘Chapters’ (see, for example, the five paintings dating from 2010 from the series called Spine, Chapter 20, Tate T14261T14265). Individual ‘Chapters’ are created for specific exhibitions and the source material for the silkscreens for each Chapter is generated from research that Quaytman conducts during the preparation for the exhibition. For each Chapter Quaytman interweaves research into her personal history, her curatorial and social activities in the art world, into art history and into the history and architecture of the site of the exhibition. The resulting silkscreens might feature images of buildings, artworks, other artists, book illustrations or architectural models. Some of the paintings are totally abstract. An abstract painting might be a composition created by Quaytman, or it might be based on a pattern or image discovered during research. Many of the abstract works feature silkscreened patterns from works by op artists. Quaytman sees these op works as a counter to her paintings which feature photographic images, because the op patterns attract and repel vision, while the photographic works invite one to look into the image.

Quaytman makes and shows her paintings in series so that, in her words, ‘each painting is informed by others in a temporal sequence’ as the viewer encounters them and in order to ‘counter the authority of the single monocular painting’ (Quaytman 2011, p.7). She has installed her Chapters in different ways, sometimes as groups of paintings conventionally arranged along a wall, but also in shelves where one panel might lean on another, recalling the appearance of an archive (such as those where her research has begun) or a storage facility (such as one where her panels might be housed while not on display). She has at times also adapted the exhibition architecture to parallel the structure of a book, for instance building a diagonal wall in a rectangular space, and treating it as two sides of a page.

Further reading
Luke Cohen, ‘Catachreses: On Rebecca H. Quaytman’, Texte zur Kunst, no.77, March 2010, pp.136–40.
Paul Galvez, ‘Tabula Rasa: The Art of R.H. Quaytman’, Artforum, September 2011, pp.302–11.
R.H. Quaytman, Spine, Berlin 2011.

Mark Godfrey
May 2013

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