Euan Uglow



Not on display

Euan Uglow 1932–2000
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1500 × 1070 mm
frame: 1745 × 1237 × 77 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

The title of this painting refers to a Chinese acrobat doll that Uglow copied to arrange the subject's athletic stance. Uglow has an exacting approach to the nude, suppressing emotional content in favour of 'visual truth'. His method of observation is painstaking and intense, as evidenced by the small marks of measurement on the figure, a technique inherited from his teacher William Coldstream, whose work is also in this room. These marks have become an integral part of Uglow's work - in the places where they remain visible, they emphasise the flatness of the picture surface.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03418 Zagi 1981–2

Oil on canvas 59 1/8 × 42 1/8 (1500 × 1070)
Inscribed on top canvas turnover ‘41·5" × 58·7". Varnish Rowneys No 800/“Wax Matt Euan Uglow 1981–82 ^/oil on canvas’

Purchased from Browse & Darby (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Exh: Euan Uglow: Paintings and drawings, Browse & Darby, May–June 1983 (21, repr. in col. and black and white); The Hard-Won Image, Tate Gallery, July–September 1984 (141, repr. in col. p.14)
Lit: Max Wykes-Joyce, ‘Euan Uglow’, Art & Artists, May 1983, p.33 (repr.); James Burr, Apollo, CXVII, June 1983, p.507 (repr.); Rasaad Jamie, ‘Euan Uglow at Browse and Darby’, Artscribe, 42, August 1983, p.60 (repr.);
Also repr: in advertisement for The Bath Festival Contemporary Art Fair, May–June 1983, in Country Life, 28 April 1983, p.1146; Burlington Magazine, CXXVI, October 1984, p.650

The following is largely based on the artist's replies to questions in conversation on 27 March 1986, and has been approved by him.

The model who posed for ‘Zagi’ was a New Zealander, Julia Burton, whom the artist had seen modelling at Chelsea School of Art; she posed for this painting for a period of a year, from Easter 1981, working five or six days a week, for up to five hours a day. The painting was executed in the artist's studio in Turnchapel Mews, Cedars Road, London SW4, using a wooden platform with a wedge-shaped addition to compensate for the angle of the studio floor, and a vertical wooden plank at its fore-edge, to which a horizontal bar, held by the model, had been attached.

Another source was a small toy made by the artist for this particular work, a figure with a carved wooden body and brass limbs attached to two steel rods, the counter-movement of which results in a sequence of acrobatic movements. The idea of the painting derived from the juxtaposition of the particular model and the poses generated by the acrobat-toy. ‘Zagi’ is a transliteration of the Chinese for ‘acrobat’ (the toy being based on a Chinese original).

The structure running down the right-hand edge of the painting curves at eye-level height, i.e. the height from which the painting should be seen; the purpose of the pattern of circles, made with a wooden cheese-top, is to define the surface of the structure - the circles themselves have no specifically analytical function. The curve in the left-hand edge of the structure allows the artist to retain the required distance between its base and the model's left foot, without having to make the arms unnaturally long. The same structure appears in ‘Striding nude, blue dress II’ (1978–81; illustration 15 in the 1983 Browse & Darby exhibition catalogue cited above), but with a less pronounced curve, since the figure is completely separated from the structure. The two paintings are related in terms of design, but are in no sense sequential.

The lower right leg and foot are painted using a change of scale, in order to accommodate the figure within the √2 rectangle with the foot fitting into the corner; this change of scale marked a late stage in the development of the painting. In common with other paintings by the artist, the numerous marks throughout the painting indicate transition-points in tone or structure, rather than serving any cartographic function.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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