As the British economy continued to recover after the Second World War, many young people had an unprecedented amount of disposable income. The youth culture that grew out of this affected the visual arts as much as other walks of life. Young artists began to experiment with technique, material and form, and to consider a much wider range of cultural references than previously thought appropriate for high art. The sensibility of the artists in this room was above all abstract and predominantly urban.

Gillian Ayres OBE, ‘Distillation’ 1957
Gillian Ayres OBE
Distillation 1957
© Gillian Ayres

In the late 1950s Gillian Ayres’s artistic interests were oriented towards European gestural abstraction, also known as ‘tachisme’. Although her pictures may have been influenced by memories of skies and landscapes, they were primarily concerned with the material of paint and the mark resulting from the artist’s gesture in front of the canvas. 

John Latham Film Star

John Latham
Film Star (detail) 1960
Books, plaster and metal on canvas
160 x 198.1 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London © Estate of John Latham

Books, as a primary means of instilling established ideas, were a focus of Latham’s work in the late 1950s and 1960s. He defaced, burnt and even ate them. These actions symbolically broke the intellectual authority of received knowledge. At the same time he transformed the books into new and mysterious objects, emblems of an alternative order. This work is called Film Star because it appeared in his film Unedited Material from the Star.