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The Artist

Private Collection, USA

Private Collection, UK


New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1950 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, 10 November - 31 December 1950, cat no.44


Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Naum Gabo, 23 April - 8 June 1965, cat no.S18, touring to:

Manheim, Kunsthalle, 23 June - 8 August 1965

Duisburg, Kunstmuseum, 21 August - 3 October 1965

Zurich, Zunsthaus, 30 October - 1 December 1965, cat no.43


Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Inside and Outside Space, 26 December 1965 -13 February 1966


London, Tate Gallery, Naum Gabo, Constructions, Paintings and Drawings, 15 March - 15 April 1966, cat no.51


Buffalo, Albright Knox Gallery, Naum Gabo, 2 March - 14 April, 1968, cat no.45, as part of Plus by Minus - Today's Half Century, 2nd Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today


Sir Herbert Read and Sir Leslie Martin, Gabo, Lund Humphries, London and Bradford, 1957, cat no.116, illus colour 


'Imaginary Still Life is part of a group of paintings Gabo produced between 1943 and 1946, in the St Ives studio he had borrowed from Peter Lanyon. Compared with Gabo's previous, sporadic efforts, these paintings show a more positive approach to surface and colour. The Realistic Manifesto[1] had asserted the priority of tone over colour, and Gabo remained faithful to this principle by making paintings which primarily exploit tonal variation'… By using a single colour, in this painting a range of reds… 'Gabo was able use intense colour without impairing the primary aim of his paintings; the creation of more complex spatial structures than he could fabricate in three dimensions. Some of the paintings are quite heavily worked. The result is a certain density of composition, with forms rhythmically developed towards the edges and usually a passage of lighter tonality and sharper focus towards the centre. Gabo's paintings are clearly the product of a sculptor's imagination and some can even be related to existing three-dimensional work'[2] The circular base on which this form sits is similar to Gabo's works in Perspex from the late 1920s and early 1930s, such as Torsion, 1929 and Construction, 1933. Gabo's sculpture was at least in part, informed by his experience of the natural world around him and the images in scientific text books and journals. Now he was living at the coast, Gabo made a large collection of stone and shells, seeing in them the same underlying structures present in his sculpture; in fact he found these structures all around him: 'I see them everywhere around me…I see them, if I put my mind to it, in a torn piece of cloud carried by the wind. I see them in the green thicket of leaves and trees. I can find them in the naked stones on hills and roads. I may discern them in a steamy trail of smoke from a passing train or on the surface of a shabby wall. I can even see them on the blank paper of my working table. I look and find them in the bends of waves on the sea beneath the openwork of foaming crests; their apparition may be sudden, it may come and go in a second, but when they are over they leave me with the image of eternity's duration [3] Gabo was influential on the British artists in St Ives during his stay there from 1939-1945, many of whom had left London to escape the bombings. He had a formative influence on the early paintings of Peter Lanyon, who used similar curving, spiral forms in his paintings. Lanyon's Construction in Green, 1947 and others from his 'Generation Series', are notably similar to Imaginary Still Life in palette, motif and the transparency layers which make up a central form. 'The spiral went right through every painting' he told Gabo '… I find this form expresses in me a sense of protective solitude - a prayer.' Barbara Hepworth's paintings from the 1940s took inspiration from crystalline forms, and she championed the Constructivist approach to art stating: 'Constructivism does not do away with imagery - in fact it contains the most easily understood use of images which are undoubtedly organic in so far as they are the basic forms of the landscape, primary construction, the human figure and so on'. Imaginary Still Life was clearly highly regarded by Gabo. He included it in many touring exhibitions and it has a full page colour illustration in Herbert Read and Leslie Martin's monograph published in 1957, followed on the next page by Nocturne, 1940 (coll. Offer Waterman & Co). In later years when Gabo was in America, he worked on monochrome mono-prints and woodblocks and rarely returned to the fully developed paintings he made during this period. [1] Written by Naum Gabo and cosigned by his brother Antoine Pevsner, published August 5th, 1920, and now considered to be a key text of Constructivism. [2] Extracts from Martin Hammer & Christina Lodder, Constructing Modernity, The Art and Career of Naum Gabo, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2000, pp300-301 [3] Ibid p302