Charles Sims

Study for ‘I am the Abyss and I am Light’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Charles Sims 1873–1928
Gouache, graphite and chalk on paper on board
Support: 285 × 400 mm
Purchased 1997


This watercolour is a study for the tempera painting I Am the Abyss and I Am Light (Tate Gallery N04396), one of Sims's 'spiritual series' which was interrupted by the artist's suicide. The paintings were exhibited as a group at the Royal Academy in 1928 as a memorial to Sims, who had been the Keeper of the Academy.

This study differs quite considerably from the final painting. It is more clearly figurative ( the abstract shapes on the left side of the finished work can be discerned in the watercolour as a representation of the Creator. From this study, Sims's process of abstraction which led to the final painting can be determined. Another study for I Am the Abyss and I Am Light is in the collection of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

Further reading:
Charles Sims, ed. Alan Sims, Picture Making: Technique & Inspiration, London 1934, pp.127-30
Harold Speed, 'Charles Sims, R.A.', The Old Water-Colour Society's Club 1928-1929, vol.6, London 1929, pp.62-4

Terry Riggs
October 1997

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Technique and condition

A study for the painting I am the Abyss and I am Light (Tate Gallery N04396), on a white wove paper support, attached to a laminate woodpulp board. Executed as a preparatory sketch initially in pencil and then painted, with broad applications of gouache as wash and impasto. Some pencil lines have been strengthened with the addition of black chalk.

The study is in good condition, with some discolouration to the paper support and areas of darkened chrome yellow paint.There is evidence of flaking paint in localised areas which require consolidation. On acquisition the woodpulp board was removed and the painting remounted onto museum board.

Calvin Winner
November 1997

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