© Tate

Room 4 in Modern Art and St Ives

Meaning and Material in the 1950s

Azalea Garden : May 1956

Patrick Heron, Azalea Garden : May 1956  1956

Heron first made his name as a critic but by 1956 was well established as a painter. Inspired by his Cornish garden, Heron painted this picture during a period when he saw himself moving from representational art to abstraction. He recalled: ‘I referred to the series as garden paintings, since they certainly related in my mind to the extraordinary effervescence of flowering azaleas and camellias which was erupting all over the garden’. Though he regarded the formal qualities of a painting as paramount, he also believed in the importance of subject matter.

Gallery label, September 2016

© The estate of Patrick Heron

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Sacking and Red

Alberto Burri, Sacking and Red  1954

In the early 1950s, Burri made a number of works using sacking. Some included the original printing found on the sacks, acknowledging their origins as part of the relief effort for post-war Europe. The addition of red paint, reminiscent of blood, was seen as a link to the artist’s early training as a doctor. However, Burri dismissed these sombre interpretations, insisting that he strove for an art that was independent of references. He described his painting as ‘a freedom attained, constantly consolidated, vigilantly guarded’.

Gallery label, April 2009

© Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello (Perugia) / DACS 2020.

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Space and Matter

Sandra Blow, Space and Matter  1959

Blow’s concern with the material of her paintings is demonstrated here by her use of liquid cement to which she added, among other things, chaff and charcoal. Her improvisatory approach links her work to what the French critic Michel Tapié called Art Informel. It is an approach she had encountered through the Italian Alberto Burri. The fact that Blow had spent several years in Cornwall close to the painter Peter Lanyon, as well as the inclusion of organic material, has led such works to be associated with landscape.

Gallery label, February 2010

© The estate of Sandra Blow

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Large Black Landscape

Jean Dubuffet, Large Black Landscape  1946

In the 1940s Dubuffet became interested in work made by untrained artists, children and the mentally ill. He believed that such art, which he called Art Brut (Raw Art), was free from the cultural conventions governing fine art, and reflected the true dynamics of the human mind. Dubuffet particularly admired graffiti and the surface of Large Black Landscape, which was built up of layers of paint into which lines were scraped and gouged, is reminiscent of an aged, crumbling, graffiti-covered wall.

Gallery label, July 2012

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Composition 1950

Nicolas de Stael, Composition 1950  1950

De Staël used the title Composition

for many paintings

of this period. It signalled not so much that the images were nonrepresentational but that they had been literally ‘composed’, using areas or blocks of carefully modulated colour. In this work, de Stäel's distinctive use of shades of grey creates a sense of light and space. Although there are no obvious allusions to recognisable figures or objects, the artist believed that his choice of colours and the shapes were based on his perception of reality.

Gallery label, March 2009

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Large Tragic Head

Jean Fautrier, Large Tragic Head  1942

During the Second World War, Fautrier was associated with the French Resistance, and briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo. Large Tragic Head is one of over thirty paintings and sculptures that he made during the Occupation, and suggests the brutality of Nazi atrocities. Here the artist deliberately disfigured the face of the sculpture, clawing deep furrows into the wet clay. The expressive gesture is implicitly associated with sudden violence, and contrasts with the delicate modelling of the eye and gasping mouth.

Gallery label, August 2011

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Amorous Dance

Karel Appel, Amorous Dance  1955

Describing his technique, Appel said: ‘I slap at the paint with brushes and palette knives and my bare hands.’ The outlines of two dancing figures can barely be deciphered amidst the explosion of line and colour. Following the end of CoBrA, Appel’s method of working became increasingly aggressive and exuberant as he relished the material quality of the paint. Here, the encrusted surface has a life force of its own which seems to mirror the dynamic exchange between the dancers.

Gallery label, July 2005

© Karel Appel Foundation / DACS 2020

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Red Form

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Red Form  1954

Born in St Andrews, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham visited Paris and Rouen as a teenager. She studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art between 1932 and 1936, and in 1940 moved to St Ives in Cornwall, on the recommendation of an artist friend, Margaret Mellis. There she got to know Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Leach and Naum Gabo. The economy of Gabo's sculptural shapes and the transluency of the modern materials he used had a great impact on her. 'Red Form' was painted in her St Ives studio by Porthmeor beach, and reflects the interest she took at the time in the Golden Section.

Gallery label, September 2004

© Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

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Bird

Dame Elisabeth Frink, Bird  1952

The prodigious Frink began to show her work in public in 1951 and among her first sculptures was this strong and alert bird, rather like a crow or a raven. The bird theme was to occupy Frink over the next two decades. Of these early sculptures she said that they ‘were really expressionist in feeling - in their emphasis on beak, claws and wings - and they were really vehicles for strong feelings of panic, tension, aggression and predatoriness. They were not, however, symbolic of anything else; they certainly were not surrogates for human beings or ‘states of being.’

Gallery label, September 2016

© Frink Estate

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March 1960

Roger Hilton, March 1960  1960

Hilton’s work oscillated between complete non-representation and degrees of figuration. In the end he came to believe that was ‘only a step towards a new sort of figuration

, that is, one which is more true’. Often apparently abstract shapes suggest parts of the body – usually female. But, as well as his forms, Hilton used the material of the work of art itself to evoke ideas of the body and its functions. He reversed the conventions of picture making by drawing into and over paint while the paint itself looks as if it has been smeared or laid on in blocks.

Gallery label, February 2010

© The estate of Roger Hilton

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Helmet Head and Shoulders

Henry Moore OM, CH, Helmet Head and Shoulders  1952, cast date unknown


British sculptor Henry Moore once described the helmet motif as ‘a recording of things inside other things’. It was related to a major theme in his work: the mother and child. While some of Moore’s sculptures present this relationship as benign and nurturing, other works suggest something more mysterious and ambiguous. Although the protective wings gently envelop the interior void, the toothed visor and claw shape impart a sense of menace, even aggression. The scuffed patina implies some ancient, battle-scarred creature.

Henry Moore was born in Castleford, West Yorkshire in 1898 and died near Much Hadham, Hertfordshire in 1986.

Gallery label, August 2004

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

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Image of the Fish God

Alan Davie, Image of the Fish God  1956

Davie’s paintings are characterised by a variety of personal pictograms, shapes and symbols that he has defined as ‘primordial’. He believes that they have ‘many and varied meanings’, which he leaves open to poetic interpretation and free association. Image of the Fish God has a totemic monumentality that evokes ancient cultures and shamanistic beliefs. The black form may be seen as figurative, and the central diamond is reminiscent of an all-seeing eye.

Gallery label, July 2012

© Estate of Alan Davie

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Peter Lanyon, St Just  1953

Lanyon named this painting for St Just-in- Penwith, the small, grey town that was the historic centre of the west Cornwall tin mining industry. Initially conceived as a crucifixion, Lanyon quickly associated this work with the tragic history of the mining district that runs west of St Ives towards St Just, as well as with mythological symbols of death and renewal. This painting was the culmination of a series of works made from late 1951 to 1954 in which Lanyon layered successive coats of thick paint in complex, tangled compositions that suggest landscapes with a symbolic meaning.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Involute II

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Involute II  1956

© Bowness

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Head 3

William Turnbull, Head 3  1955

One of a series of free-standing 'Heads' of 1955-7. In them human features appear to merge with the all-over surface texture. Lacerated and irregular, the heads suggest experience. Without obviously describing features, marks are inscribed like lines on a face. Turnbull's related paintings and reliefs treat the human head in further ways which combine extreme simplicity with openness to different ways of reading.

Gallery label, September 2004

© William Turnbull. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020

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Keith Vaughan, Landscape with Figure  1958

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Art in this room

Azalea Garden : May 1956
Patrick Heron Azalea Garden : May 1956 1956
Sacking and Red
Alberto Burri Sacking and Red 1954
Space and Matter
Sandra Blow Space and Matter 1959
Large Black Landscape
Jean Dubuffet Large Black Landscape 1946
Composition 1950
Nicolas de Stael Composition 1950 1950
Large Tragic Head
Jean Fautrier Large Tragic Head 1942

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