A selection of sculptures, reliefs and paintings by artists working in the field of British Constructivism have gone on display at Pallant House Gallery
. The display complements the Gallerys major spring exhibition, Victor Pasmore: Towards a New Reality, which explores Pasmores controversial move from figurative to abstract art. Pasmore was a leading figure among the British Constructivists; his work is included in this exhibition alongside works by artists such as Kenneth Martin, Mary Martin, Anthony Hill and Norman Dilworth, all drawn from the Catherine Petitgas Collection.
The British Constructivists were an unofficial group of abstract artists with shared interests who were inspired in part by the ideals of Russian Constructivism. In 1951 British artist Kenneth Martin published an article entitled Abstract Art in the publication Broadsheet No. 1: Devoted to Abstract Art in which he described the work of this emerging circle of abstract artists. He characterised the new constructed work as an object which is real and not illusional in that it sets out to represent no object outside [itself], but to contain within itself the force of its own nature.
During the 1950s, the British Constructivists organised a series of exhibitions. These included Abstract Paintings, Sculptures, Mobiles, at the A.I.A Gallery, London in 1951 and during the following year three weekend exhibitions held at 22 Fitzroy Street; the London studio of artist Adrian Heath. Unframed paintings, reliefs, collages, sculptures and mobiles were placed at different heights so that the space of the whole studio was animated. This environmental approach to the installation and their shared belief that their art was closely allied to the forms and materials of modern architecture was central to their contribution to the seminal exhibition This is Tomorrow held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1956.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, they continued to exhibit their work and established the groups central position within the development of the British avant-garde. By 1960, a new generation of artists including Peter Lowe, Gillian Ware, Norman Dilworth and Jeffrey Steele joined and became closely associated with the groups ideas.
Victor Pasmore (1908-98) was a leading figurehead among the emerging constructed abstract artists in post-war Britain. He was however less theoretically radical than the others, and was the only one without a strong preoccupation with mathematics.
Kenneth and Mary Martin
Kenneth Martin (1905 1984) and his wife Mary Martin (1907 1969) are the best-known of the core constructivists. Their teaching methods had a long-lasting impact and a unifying influence on the development of the other artists in the group. Although always working closely and often exhibiting together, they developed two very distinct bodies of work.
Kenneth Martin was primarily concerned with the laws of chance or order, while Mary Martin focused on the working of permutations, structures, rotations and the golden ratio. Constructions were central to Marys work, while Kenneth explored mobiles and paintings, although both realised large sculptures and murals.
Norman Dilworth (b. 1931) explores the many possibilities of forms that are at once organic and mathematical, with a degree of freedom that again demonstrates the connection between structures and plasticity. His sculptures are concerned with modular patterns and the way these organise a coherent whole.
John Ernest (1922 1994) was a gifted mathematician and craftsman of enormous skill, creating work by hand with apparent laser precision. He was a US-born artist who joined the group early and was to be central to the development of the constructivists. He also wrote on constructivism and collaborated closely with scientists including Nobel Prize winning chemist, John Kendrew to help them create visual representations of their discoveries. His most famous work, Tower (Vertical Construction) (1955), now in the Catherine Petitgas collection, has only been exhibited in public twice before.
In the late 1950s Jeffrey Steele (b. 1931) moved from figurative painting to creating monochrome abstract works. The visual effects of these paintings were determined by Steeles research, which used the objective arbitrary values of equations as starting and finishing points. The result is an oeuvre of immense interest.
Peter Lowe (b.1938) was a student of Kenneth and Mary Martin. His work embraces systematic rigour, having reduced patterns to a strict minimum in order to reveal their infinite variability. Simple, yet also complex and unique, his work attains a conceptual sense of space and volume.
Anthony Hill (b. 1930) was a keen mathematician and is different from many of his peers in that he never produced a single figurative work in his early years. His constructions are made from a combination of materials such as plastic, brass, copper and aluminium and each element is used directly from the manufacturers. The result is not about the demonstration of a mathematical equation but rather the harmonious relationship of the whole.
The Catherine Petitgas Collection
Catherine Petitgas is an art historian and patron as well as a leading collector of South American art. Since 2012, Petitgas has expanded her collection to include the work of significant British artists. The present exhibition from the collection is an opportunity to reflect on notions of the avant-garde in Britain and offers a valuable contribution to our understanding of what makes art new, and why it matters.