By 1945 Victor Pasmore was an established figurative painter, one of an elite group of artists selected to be the subject of a monograph in the popular ‘Penguin Modern Painters’ series. However, in the accompanying text, critic Clive Bell identified a restlessness in the artist, correctly predicting, ‘the art of Pasmore will not stand still’. In the years immediately after, Pasmore experimented widely, each painting edging him a little closer to pure abstraction, and some works marking much greater leaps, such as the astonishing The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith, No. 1, 1944-7. By the end of the 1940s Pasmore had abandoned figurative sources altogether.
Relief Painting in White Black and Indian Red, 1951, is the earliest example of Pasmore working in relief. By the time he made Abstract in Black, White and Maroon, in 1954 he had reduced his composition to a series of horizontal parallel lines –wooden strips in three colours, placed in shallow relief on a painted backboard. In this year Pasmore curated a group exhibition at the University of Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery. He included this pivotal painting, alongside works by leading abstract artists of the day – Robert Adams, Barbara Hepworth, Kenneth and Mary Martin and Ben Nicholson. He would later include it in his solo presentation at the 1960 Venice Biennale.
In his next recorded work, Pasmore switched to a sequence of vertical lines on board and in the following work, these same closely positioned vertical lines are applied to a floated sheet of perspex for the first time. This important sequence was the genesis for a long series of projective reliefs which Pasmore continued to make, alongside his architectural projects, until around 1965.
In the catalogue raisonné of his work, Pasmore describes this progression: ‘True painting in any form, always develops a concrete existence of its own, independent of what it represents. But, if painting is to manifest itself completely free from visual representation then this principle becomes absolute.
To emphasise this condition unequivocally I started by abandoning the paintbrush, with its illusionistic associations, and adopted the paper collage technique of early Cubism in which the painting was built forward from the picture-plane. This affirmation of the concrete surface and pigmental substance of painting led to the notion of constructing a picture like a carpenter constructs a box with wood, saw, hammer and nails. Hence the collage developed into a relief…
Beginning from a standpoint of the rectangular picture plane, this meant projecting analogous sections of its surface forward into actual space, thus producing an orthogonal structure equivalent to that of architecture…..If painting is to become a free object in its own right, capable of producing a maximum aesthetic impact, then it could be argued that its form would have to correspond to the dimensions of the space it occupies, like any natural object’ 3
Initially Pasmore made the relief projections himself, but later he employed a joiner to produce the wooden constructions to his designs. These were painted in household paints and over time there has been some discolouration, with the whites in particular having lost some of their original brilliance. Some of Pasmore’s perspex reliefs have small holes in their top corners, which indicate that they were at some stage intended to be suspended from the ceiling. Other artists such as Kenneth Martin were experimenting with hanging work directly from the ceiling – see for example Small Screw Mobile, 1953.
In Abstract in White, Black Green and Maroon, three dimensional vertical forms project colour forward into space, while the transparency of the perspex creates an ambiguity between the structure of the work and its surroundings. Light reflects differently off each of the vertical planes and off the ‘winged’ forms in particular. Just as light changes in a room, our reading of the object changes with the light, throwing different verticals forward and creating shadows on the supporting wall.
Pasmore’s wish for his ‘paintings’ to exist in, and extend into, real space is similar to the thinking of sculptor Anthony Caro, who abandoned the plinth in favour of sculptures which would stand directly on the floor or bend over the edges of a table. Pasmore’s work from this period, shares common ground with British artists such as Kenneth and Mary Martin and also the American constructionist Charles Biederman. But while the Martins, shared certain aesthetic similarities, they are differentiated from Pasmore by their use of mathematical systems to generate work, whereas Pasmore’s compositions remained intuitive and authored, a practise he likened to the composition of music.
Closely comparable works: Relief Construction in White, Black and Maroon 1962-3, Transparent Relief Construction in White, Black, Green and Maroon 1960 – 1961 and Abstract in White Black and Indian Red 1962 are in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh and Boymans Museum, Rotterdam respectively.
1 Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini (intros.), Victor Pasmore, with a catalogue raisonné of the paintings, constructions and graphics 1926-1979, cat no.182 2 Ibid, cat no.183 3. Ibid pp 100, 106
Private Collection, Italy
IV San Marino Biennale, 1963
Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini (intros.), Victor Pasmore, with a catalogue raisonné of the paintings, constructions and graphics 1926-1979, cat no.268, illus b/w p107
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