Seven influential abstract painters from the 1970s, Colin Cina, Bernard Cohen, Noel Forster, Derek Hirst, Michael Kidner, Jack Smith and Richard Smith, exhibit works demonstrating a reductive and disciplined articulation of the sensations of light, form, sound, colour and space at Flowers Gallery, London, in Seven from the Seventies.
During the 1970s , the artistic careers of all seven artists were in the spotlight, exhibiting in important solo and group presentations internationally and at major British institutions including Tate Gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Hayward Gallery, the Serpentine Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts, London. With prominent roles in British art schools as well as international professorships, their ideas impacted upon a generation of artists, with their ordered, procedural and systematic approach to painting opening up new possibilities for future formal experimentation within abstraction.
Exhibited works include Colin Cina’s MH series which has been described as the artist’s “homage to the rectangle” (William Feaver – Art International, 1972). Finding a sense of freedom within its formal confines, his lyrical coloured panels are rhythmically orchestrated by vertical lines and chevrons, the relational aspect of which set Cina’s work apart from much Colour Field painting of the time. Also concerned with the systematisation of natural forces, are Noel Forster’s colour fields made up from “nets” of interwoven colour refer to the energy of which all light and matter is composed. In Untitled (1974) space is described through the dense overlapping of coloured line, each band of colour producing a distinct radiant quality.
Bernard Cohen meanwhile has described himself as “a storyteller and a creator of pictorial theatre”. Composed of textured applications of layers of paint and interwoven arrays of lines and forms, Cohen’s work represents a complex and vibrating geography, where the artist’s exploration of the borderland between order and chaos is evident. Challenging borders again and experimenting with the structural properties of the canvas and its support is Richard Smith’s Maryland, 1972; this work pushed the boundaries of traditional painting into a third dimension by building extensions to the canvas. Smith produced these works on a large scale, alluding to the monumentality of the billboards that surround the landscape of America.
Working beyond convention again is Jack Smith, whose Sounds and Silences No.4 (1970) demonstrates the artist’s use of the formal properties of hieroglyphics and jazz musical notation. Developing new systems of arbitrary signs, Smith created visual form for both the sound of music and the spaces in-between, inviting his works to be “heard” as well as seen. Smith, with an attitude that resonates throughout the exhibition is quoted as saying “I’ve heard it said that painting is finished, not to my way of thinking. Abstract painting is still in its infancy; there is so much left to explore.”
Seven from the Seventies, until 21 February, Flowers Gallery, 82 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DP.
1. Noel Forster, 3 Piece, 1974, Oil on linen, 152.5 x 304.5 cm / 60 1/4 x 120 in, courtesy of Flowers Gallery.