Germaine Richier, ‘Chessboard, Large Version (Original Painted Plaster)’ 1959
Germaine Richier, Chessboard, Large Version (Original Painted Plaster) 1959 . Tate . © The estate of Germaine Richier

Room 7 in In the Studio

The Disappearing Figure: Art after Catastrophe

Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I

Ibrahim El-Salahi, Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I  1961–5

El-Salahi studied painting in Khartoum in the late 1940s, before completing his studies in London. Returning to Khartoum in 1957, he realised that Sudan – a newly independent country in the midst of a civil war – required a different approach. As one of the founders of the Khartoum School, he developed a new visual vocabulary comprising simple forms, strong lines and sombre colours inspired by his environment and rooted in Arabic and African forms and iconography. In this work El-Salahi captures the fleeting, and often dramatic, moments when memory and dreams, past and present collide.

Gallery label, October 2016

© Ibrahim Salahi

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Number 14

Jackson Pollock, Number 14  1951

By 1951, Pollock had achieved considerable success with his dripped and poured abstract painting. He was widely regarded as the leading young North American artist. Perhaps fearing that he was reaching a dead-end in his work, he embarked on a series of black and white paintings in which figures emerge, as they had in his early works. After rolling the canvas out on the floor, he would apply the paint – usually industrial enamel paint – with sticks and basting syringes. The artist Lee Krasner, who was married to Pollock, recalled him wielding these ‘like a giant fountain pen’.

Gallery label, October 2019

© Pollock - Krasner Foundation, Inc.

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Gothic Landscape

Lee Krasner, Gothic Landscape  1961

Although this is an abstract painting, the thick vertical lines that dominate its centre can be seen as trees, with thick knotted roots at their base. It was probably this that led Krasner to call the painting Gothic Landscape, several years after completing it. Krasner was married to the artist Jackson Pollock. Gothic Landscape was made in the years following his death from a car crash in 1956. It belongs to a series of large canvases whose violent and expressive gestural brushstrokes can be read as a reflection of her grief.

Gallery label, August 2019

© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020

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Moment

Barnett Newman, Moment  1946

Moment is one of Newman’s first paintings to include a vertical band of light, which he would soon call a ‘zip’. He said that in these early works he was manipulating colour and space to fight the chaos that existed before the beginning of the universe. The title refers to the moment of creation, and possibly a moment of arrival for art. Abstract Expressionism, characterised by spontaneous-looking mark-making, was developed by Newman, among others, in the 1940s and 1950s. It put New York at the centre of the western art world, a role formerly held by Paris.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020

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Two Junctions

Tsuyoshi Maekawa, Two Junctions  1962

Maekawa was a prominent member of the Gutai Art Association, a group of artists working in Japan from 1954-1972 in Japan who utilised industrial and everyday materials and shared an interest in the performative nature of painting. To create Two Junctions, Maekawa placed pieces of burlap, a textile used to make jute rice bags, onto a canvas, then cut, sewed and folded the material. He then poured and dripped coloured enamel paint over the textured surface, producing an abstract image that transcends the flatness traditionally associated with painting.

Gallery label, October 2016

© Tsuyoshi Maekawa

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Hip, Hip, Hoorah!

Karel Appel, Hip, Hip, Hoorah!  1949

The title of Hip, Hip, Hoorah! was intended to celebrate the artistic freedom achieved by the CoBrA movement (1948–1951), a group of artists active in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam who sought to reinvigorate post-war culture. The figures combine human attributes with animal or bird-like features. Appel thought of them as ‘people of the night’, and so gave them a dark background. The bright colours and child-like imagery are typical of CoBrA. Appel often took inspiration from children’s drawings, believing that ‘the child in man is all that’s strongest, most receptive, most open and unpredictable’.

Gallery label, October 2016

© Karel Appel Foundation / DACS 2020

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Monsieur Plume with Creases in his Trousers (Portrait of Henri Michaux)

Jean Dubuffet, Monsieur Plume with Creases in his Trousers (Portrait of Henri Michaux)  1947

In this work the outline of the figure is roughly gouged into the thick paint, the face and body scarred and crumpled. The title identifies it as a caricature of the poet-painter Henri Michaux, whose writings featured ‘Monsieur Plume’, a semi-autobiographical comic character. It belongs to a group of unconventional portraits of Dubuffet’s artistic and literary friends. The series was exhibited under the title ‘Portraits with extracted Likeness, with Likeness cooked and confected in the Memory, with Likeness exploded in the Memory of Mr Jean Dubuffet’.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Chessboard, Large Version (Original Painted Plaster)

Germaine Richier, Chessboard, Large Version (Original Painted Plaster)  1959

These five figures represent the principal pieces in a game of chess: the King, Queen, Knight, Castle and Bishop. Rather than the elegant designs of traditional chessmen, these are grotesque hybrid figures. The knight has a horse’s head, while the Bishop (known in France as the Fool) resembles a hunchbacked jester. Richier used distorted animal and partly human figures to reflect the anxieties and despair of post-war Europe. ‘It seems to me that in violent works there is just as much sensibility as in poetic ones’, she said. ‘There can be just as much wisdom in violence as in gentleness’.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The estate of Germaine Richier

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Defeat

Hamed Abdalla, Defeat  1963

Defeat is characteristic of Abdalla’s experimental approach to unconventional materials and techniques. Although he relocated to Copenhagen in 1957 and later lived in Paris, he remained engaged with political developments in his native Egypt and much of his work reflects on political failure and the impact of conflict. Abdalla made Defeat by overlaying silver leaf with aluminium before using a blow-torch to create burnt areas on the otherwise bright surfaces. The composition is completed with marks resembling writing made with a combination of black paint and tar.

Gallery label, October 2016

© Family Hamed Abdalla

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Painting, 23 May 1953

Pierre Soulages, Painting, 23 May 1953  1953

The title of this painting refers to the date of its completion. Soulages began experimenting with abstraction in 1947, using heavy brushstrokes of black paint against a light background. This calligraphic style was to become increasingly vigorous and gestural throughout the 1950s. Soulages has said that for him abstraction is a means of exploring his imagination and inner experience. In 1950 he explained: 'I work, guided by inner impulse, a longing for certain forms, colours and materials, and it is not until they are on the canvas that they tell me what I want'.

Gallery label, July 2008

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Cuba Si

Farid Belkahia, Cuba Si  1961

Cuba Si 1961 is painted in oil on paper which has been mounted onto board. The composition shows the head and shoulders of a primitively rendered figure, whose elongated arms are raised and encircle his head, one clenched fist grasping the other. On his chest he wears some form of badge or rosette. The facial features are simplified, with the wide round eyes and dark circle of the open mouth suggesting an expression of surprise or emphatic assertion. This last seems most likely given the work’s title, Cuba Si, which translates as ‘Yes Cuba!’.

© reserved

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Death of Sun I

Kim Ku-lim, Death of Sun I  1964

At the centre of this work is a shape reminiscent of the sun, but its surface is filled with charred cracks that the artist made by burning the plastic. It was created in 1964, immediately after Kim completed his military service in Korea: ‘The work is based on my experience of death. I spent some time in the military hospital…where I saw many young men losing their lives. With the lack of medicine and proper medical care, so many lives were being lost, and I felt that human existence was extremely insignificant.’

Gallery label, October 2016

© Ku-lim Kim

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Head III

Graham Sutherland OM, Head III  1953

Insects and fossils merge in Sutherland’s Head III. The painter would later insist that these hybrid creatures were not intended to be threatening. At the time, however, the critic Herbert Read identified in Sutherland’s work ‘the now prevailing cosmic anxiety’.

Gallery label, October 2016

© Tate

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After Us, Liberty

Constant (Constant A. Nieuwenhuys), After Us, Liberty  1949

Constant originally titled this work To Us, Liberty, believing that it encapsulated the spirit of creative freedom that accompanied the founding of the CoBrA group in 1948. The prominent use of red, white and blue allude to the French tricolour flag, and its revolutionary values of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood. Several years later, after the collapse of CoBrA, Constant re-titled the work to reflect his disillusionment: ‘I changed the title to express my doubts about the possibility of ‘free art’ in an unfree society, and, at the same time, my hopes for the freedom all men are looking for.’

Gallery label, October 2016

© DACS, 2020

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Composition

Shafic Abboud, Composition  c.1957–8

Composition is characteristic of Abboud’s abstract work of the 1950s for which he used thick paint, here applied with a palette knife, to establish an intense sense of movement. Although made in Paris, the limited blues and greys seem to carry memories of the light and colour of the artist’s native Lebanon. There may even be suggestions of an aerial view of rural landscape. In his later notebooks, he wrote: ‘It is very hard to explain, but I like pursuing the work up to the abstract picture without letting go of the real origin’.

Gallery label, October 2016

© Succession Shafic Abboud

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Untitled

Ernest Mancoba, Untitled  1957

Mancoba believed in the importance of spontaneity and freedom of expression. His bold colours and dynamic gestures reveal his painting process. He said, ‘In my painting, it is difficult to say whether the central form is figurative or abstract. But that does not bother me.’ Born in Johannesburg, Mancoba left for Paris in 1938. He moved to Copenhagen after the Second World War. There he became one of the founding members of CoBrA, an artist group whose expressionistic painting style was inspired by the art of children. He returned to Paris in 1952, where he lived until his death.

Gallery label, August 2019

© Courtesy of the Estate of Ernest Mancoba / Galerie Mikael Andersen

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Creation of the Planet

Marcos Grigorian, Creation of the Planet  1963

Grigorian began working on his Earthworks Series in 1962, the same year he moved from Tehran to New York. He was inspired by natural processes and pursued an unconventional approach to art-making, exploring materials like oil, soil, straw, wood, and various binding agents within a square format. Creation of the Planet, with its monochrome and encrusted surface gives the sense of a distant aerial view of earth. Grigorian explained: ‘Perhaps I was homesick for the native soil of Iran, or maybe it was just the opposite – a reaction to being obsessed with my past’.

Gallery label, October 2016

© reserved

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Marathon

Nicolas de Stael, Marathon  1948

De Staël’s paintings emphasise the physical nature of their surfaces and his typically energetic work is seen at its most explosive here. The title Marathon may reflect the struggle that the painter experienced in having his art accepted. De Staël, who tackled several sporting themes, may also have seen a comparison between the demands of creating a painting and the extended exertion of the race.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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The Sculptor

William Gear, The Sculptor  1953

William Gear spent the late 1940s in Paris. He then used the earth colours and grid-like compositions typical of the School of Paris at that time. This painting shows the new angularity and sharpness that entered his work in the 1950s. It relates to the forms expressing anxiety that emerged in the new British sculpture after the Second World War, seen particularly in the work of Lynn Chadwick, Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage. This painting also refers to sculpture projects that Gear himself was considering at the time. It was painted in the same year as the Unknown Political Prisoner Competition, won by Reg Butler.

Gallery label, September 2004

© The estate of William Gear

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Guano

Judit Reigl, Guano  1958–62

Guano belongs to a group of works formed by a build-up of paint falling from other works onto a canvas laid on the studio floor. Accumulated and compacted by chance, these paintings developed an extraordinary crust resembling the excrement of seabirds and bats, from which they take their name. On reviewing these surfaces, Reigl scraped back and reworked areas. Long furrows mark the surface, suggesting an archaeological layering. The textures evoke urban surfaces, from pavements to ancient walls and, by extension, a sense of an embedded history.

Gallery label, October 2016

© Judit Reigl

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Jean-Michel Atlan, Baal the Warrior  1953

As a Jew and a member of the Resistance, Atlan had been arrested by the Nazis during the Second World War. Feigning madness, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital from which he emerged when Paris was liberated. He was in contact with Asger Jorn and exhibited with CoBrA in 1948–9. His subsequent work combined abstraction with figurative elements. The title of this work refers to Baal, a Middle Eastern fertility deity, whose cult was regarded in the Judeo-Christian tradition as exemplifying the worship of false gods.

Gallery label, October 2016

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Tribal Mark II

Aubrey Williams, Tribal Mark II  1961

Williams’ paintings engage with the visual language of American and European abstraction, while also drawing upon Guyanese cultural history. His use of tribal glyph marks relates to the calligraphic motifs of other abstract artists. However, he first encountered these signs in the 1940s when he was working as an agricultural field officer in Guyana and spent time with the Warrau tribe. He described the glyph as ‘a strange, very tense, slightly violent shape coming in somewhere. It has haunted me all my life and I don’t understand it; a subconscious thing coming out’.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The estate of Aubrey Williams

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Untitled

Jeram Patel, Untitled  c.1963

Patel began to experiment with burning laminated plywood with a blowtorch in the 1960s. His interest was in the physical properties of the material he used and how it changed through his interventions. He stated: ‘By burning wood, I am making an attack on it… nobody can create anything, the only thing that one can do is to destroy things.’ He rejected colour and representation in works like this, but stressed their relationship to painting. Displaying this on the wall, he felt, helped viewers to see it as an image.

Gallery label, April 2019

© courtesy DAG

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Untitled

Ernest Mancoba, Untitled  1957

Mancoba believed in the importance of spontaneity and freedom of expression. His bold colours and dynamic gestures reveal his painting process. He said, ‘In my painting, it is difficult to say whether the central form is figurative or abstract. But that does not bother me.’ Born in Johannesburg, Mancoba left for Paris in 1938. He moved to Copenhagen after the Second World War. There he became one of the founding members of CoBrA, an artist group whose expressionistic painting style was inspired by the art of children. He returned to Paris in 1952, where he lived until his death.

Gallery label, August 2019

© Courtesy of the Estate of Ernest Mancoba / Galerie Mikael Andersen

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Rockery, 1963

Prunella Clough, Rockery, 1963  1962–3

Clough’s early work depicted people at work and the urban landscape. Later she became regarded largely as an abstract painter, but her work always kept a figurative base, as if observation and experience had been filtered through memory. She was fascinated by the ‘edginess’ of form, the sudden intrusion of hard shapes into softer areas.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The estate of Prunella Clough

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Composition Kolvil

Carl Buchheister, Composition Kolvil  1960

Buchheister’s artist style changed radically after the Second World War. Before the advent of National Socialism in Germany he made linear abstract works. After a long interruption in his career he returned to art after the war. In his later years he worked in a much freer style, principally on paper, incorporating more varied materials and textures.

Gallery label, October 2016

© DACS, 2020

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Norman Lewis, Cathedral  1950

Lewis was one of the first black artists to work with abstraction in America. Cathedral comes from a group of works inspired by the dense urban landscape visible from Lewis’s studio in Harlem, New York. In this series, abstraction and visual references to the real world are blurred. Following the Second World War his work became increasingly abstract. This was partly in response to his disillusionment with the United States. He saw the ‘master race’ ideology of Nazi Germany echoed in the segregation of the US armed forces.

Gallery label, October 2016

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Art in this room

Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I
Ibrahim El-Salahi Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I 1961–5
Number 14
Jackson Pollock Number 14 1951
Gothic Landscape
Lee Krasner Gothic Landscape 1961
Moment
Barnett Newman Moment 1946
Two Junctions
Tsuyoshi Maekawa Two Junctions 1962
Hip, Hip, Hoorah!
Karel Appel Hip, Hip, Hoorah! 1949

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