photo: © Rikard Österlund

Room 5 in Modern Art and St Ives

Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Poem

Saloua Raouda Choucair, Poem  1963–5

Poem comprises five carved wood blocks placed on top of one another to create a vertical sculpture. Its configuration relates to that of Infinite Structure of the same date (Tate T13262), but this piece is significantly smaller, as well as being carved in a different material. Rather than being strictly geometrical, as is the case with Infinite Structure, the wooden forms have softer, more organic lines and in places interlock instead of sitting squarely on top of each other. Each block is completely pierced by at least one or two large, carved holes in its sides and ends. This work is one of a number of small scale sculptural ‘poems’ made by the artist during this time. Each individual unit is able to function as a unique sculptural form and the individual units can be rearranged in different formations. This potential for interaction and movement within the work relates it to the sculpture of artists such as Lygia Clark (1920–1988), whose ‘Bichos’ were similarly kinetic, though Choucair’s work is less about an organic mutability than about the inherent structure among its parts, and its relationship to Islamic poetry. The softer lines and abstract shapes of Poem, and the visible grain of the wood, also call for a comparison with the work of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), though once again the highly specific poetical reference in Choucair’s work sets it apart from this Western lineage.

© Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

White and Green

Carmen Herrera, White and Green  1959

© Carmen Herrera

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Small Screw Mobile

Kenneth Martin, Small Screw Mobile  1953

Martin adopted abstraction in the late 1940s, constructing his first mobiles in 1951. In 1953, he established his most characteristic form, the Screw Mobiles. The geometry resulting in spiral structures occurs naturally in shells. It was discussed in D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s influential book On Growth and Form, which Martin is known to have consulted. The group of British artists known as the Constructionists rejected mimetic art in favour of new (predominantly geometrical) forms, materials and techniques. Yet, naturally occurring sequences could still be the sources for such works.

Gallery label, May 2012

© The estate of Kenneth Martin

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Turning Form

Denis Mitchell, Turning Form  1959

© The estate of Denis Mitchell

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Maquette, Three Forms in Echelon

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Maquette, Three Forms in Echelon  1961

© Bowness

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

B+N=0

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Untitled

Roger Hilton, Untitled  1953

Although abstract, Hilton's work during the early 1950s has an impressionistic quality inspired by Bonnard's garden paintings. In 1953 Hilton's painting changed dramatically. Following a visit to Amsterdam and the Hague, where he was able to study Mondrian's painting, his ideas regarding space, form and colour were revolutionised. He ceased to regard the painting surface as if it was a window. Instead the forms are built up on it, emphasising its flatness. He also greatly simplified his use of shape and colour, restricting himself, as in this painting, to lines and squares in primary colours and black and white. These 'neo-plastic' works eliminate illusion and emphasise the physical, object-like quality of the painting.

Gallery label, August 2004

© The estate of Roger Hilton

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Abstract in White, Black, Indian and Lilac

Victor Pasmore, Abstract in White, Black, Indian and Lilac  1957

Pasmore believed that art derived from nature, and specifically from its underlying processes and structures rather than its surface appearance. In his reliefs Pasmore brought ideas of growth and abstract harmony into three dimensions. He rejected tilted elements because they were not organic developments of the rectangles in the way that horizontals and verticals are. He added: Geometry, though subject to the quoi of personal judgment, is a guide to the organic process.

Gallery label, August 2004

© Tate

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Portheras Grey

Paul Feiler, Portheras Grey  1959–61

Planes of paint, densely applied with large brushes and a palette knife, establish a structured composition, dominated by subtle modulations of white. This evokes Feiler’s experience of the local landscape in Cornwall, acknowledged in the conjunction of place-names and colours in his titles. Since moving to Cornwall in the early 1950s, Feiler has been one of the leading painters in Britain responding to the landscape through abstract means.

Gallery label, May 2008

© Paul Feiler. All Rights Reserved 2020 / Bridgeman Images

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Calshot

Trevor Bell, Calshot  1970

Calshot 1970 is a large painting in acrylic paint on two shaped canvases which together make a triangular form. Bell developed a painting practice that combined the formalist rigour of much abstract painting of the 1960s with references to external sources: landscape and nature, as well as personal experiences. Building on paintings inspired by, and evocative of, the Cornish coast and the Yorkshire Dales (see, for example, Forces 1962, Tate T13393), in the mid- and late 1960s he began to use shaped canvases and to make paintings that consisted of more than a single support.

© Trevor Bell

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Untitled

Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt), Untitled  c.1977

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

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Mary Martin, Spiral  1963

Mary Martin showed a number of related relief constructions in an exhibition in early 1964. The common unit to all of them was a right-angled wedge. Made from a cube of wood cut diagonally in half, the wood surfaces were covered in a thin sheet of stainless steel. They are grouped together against a background of black formica. The wedges are juxtaposed in all possible ways so as to reflect the light from different angles. The complexity of the reflections and light patterns becomes clear only as the spectator moves his or her position, or the angle of light changes.

Gallery label, August 2004

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

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Jean Spencer, White Relief  1969

White Relief 1969 is a square white monochrome relief measuring thirty-six by thirty-six inches built up from a wood and hardboard base. The basic framework for the relief is based on a square projecting from its surface as a cube to realise a progressive permutation of positive and negative space. One centrally positioned vertical band is bisected by two horizontal bands, one of which mirrors as a rotation the positive spaces of the other, cutting across the vertical band as negative spaces. The structure can then be mapped as sequences of squares that chart a string of rotations and reflections. The relief thus depicts a systematic movement and progression within its composition, but also suggests that this may be part of a permutation within a larger series or set. Spencer approached her reliefs in series as she described in the catalogue essay to her second solo exhibition in 1969, the year this work was made: ‘Within each series of reliefs the first are concerned with a direct use of the units; subsequently the rigid framework of the units is broken down.’ (Untitled artist’s statement in Jean Spencer, exhibition catalogue, Arts Centre, University of Sussex, Brighton 1969, unpaginated.)

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

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Lygia Clark, Animal 2, 1969  1969

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

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Lygia Clark, Animal 1, 1969  1969

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

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Sir Terry Frost, circle of British Council (London, UK), Black, White and Yellow 1974  1974

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artworks in Construction in painting and sculpture after 1950

Art in this room

Poem
Saloua Raouda Choucair Poem 1963–5
White and Green
Carmen Herrera White and Green 1959
Small Screw Mobile
Kenneth Martin Small Screw Mobile 1953
Turning Form
Denis Mitchell Turning Form 1959
Maquette, Three Forms in Echelon
Dame Barbara Hepworth Maquette, Three Forms in Echelon 1961
B+N=0
Li Yuan-chia B+N=0 1965

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