Midas Magazine: British Abstract Expressionism

May 1st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

The abstract expressionism experience

Written by João Correia and published by Midas Interiors magazine

April 2004 edition

Alongside my work with Modern and Contemporary Latin American art, I frequently research art from other regions. It gives me ideas on how to make my clients’ interiors and art collections an even better expression of themselves. The ultimate sophistication is the combination of the right interior design with the right art. Finding the right art is a job I love doing, and if a job well done brings good investment potential, that is the ideal situation. Recently, whilst researching art for a client I came into contact with abstract expressionism. It is colourful, dramatic, and entertaining. What is more, my interest was increased due to the current revival of painting, the strength of the contemporary art market and a visit to exhibitions of works by William Tillyer and Howard Hodgkin.

The term “abstract expressionism” was first used in 1919 to describe some of Kandinsky’s paintings. Later, it became the accepted term for the American movement which became a leading trend in the art scene in the 1940’s, and 1950’s, led by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. Abstract expressionism emphasised spontaneous and emotional expression in the use of shapes and colours existing for their own sensual sake and not as a vehicle for a narrative. The method and techniques were above the message of the painting, subjectivity above the objectivity. Abstract expressionism had a great impact in the American and European art scenes in the 1950’s, and has been considered as one of the major post war movements in Western art.

William Tillyer and Howard Hodgkin have learned a great deal from this movement. If abstract expressionism in New York had been defined by rapid painting techniques partly dictated by chance on large flat canvases, Hodgkin’s works have nothing of rapidity or accidentalism about them. Some take several years to be completed, where each stroke seems to be carefully thought through. Another defining characteristic is that he paints on small, as opposed to the large canvases typical of the movement in the US. If the New York artists’ statement was about freedom and expression without boundaries then, Tillyer’s art challenged this idea with the use of lateral supports which intentionally bring boundaries and limit the subject matter of the painting. While American abstract expressionism referred to an explosion of emotions, a rejection of the figurative and the removal of limits, Hodgkin’s art expresses with careful consideration emotions, memories and encounters; and Tillyer’s art investigates the limits between organics and mechanics, between modern man and nature.

Abstract expressionism is about freedom, about colours and shapes existing for their own sensuous sake

Howard Hodgkin’s work reflects brilliantly the conversion of three metaphysical experiences: colour, drawing and medium (materials used). Considered one of the greatest colourists of our time he aims to document the emotional memory of a human experience giving it a colourful and tangible presence. His drawing incorporates changes in perspectives over the many years he takes to complete a painting. It is almost as if a given element had been remembered in different angles over a period of time and his drawings registered all of its positions. It can be an exciting exercise tracking figurative suggestions through his abstract leads. His mediums are highly integrated into his drawings. Painting against wood supports result in rich and solid colours, whilst in his prints he deliberately preserves some physical marks and patterns of the process. Themes predominantly are encounters between people and events relating to personal memories. The use of coloured borders limits the subject area and at first entertains and later fascinates as it can indicate restriction or transgression, increasing the dramatic effect of the picture. His painted frames can also suggest a merging of art with life. His paintings inspire a thoughtful reflection on the arts of the great masters Cézanne and Kandinsky.

Tillyer investigates the point of contact between man and nature while observing the interaction of the mechanical with the organic.

The art of the British painter William Tillyer depicts three fascinating dialogues: the dialogue between modern man and nature, paint and its background support, and the role of artistic communication. Firstly, while investigating the interaction between man and nature, we can observe the need for the coexistence of man with nature, which is in many ways a ‘removed involvement’. Secondly, the exploration between the medium and its support is intriguing, especially if we take into consideration the variety of mediums he has been working on such as painting, collage, watercolour, printing and mixed media constructions. Medium for him is not merely a vehicle, but rather the expression and message in itself. This aspect of his art is typical of the abstract expressionism movement. Finally, his contribution to art suggests profound reflection on how and what art is meant to communicate. This can be appreciated throughout the various phases enriched by his experiences in such a number of mediums. All this accounts for what has become a very living and changing artistic path, something for which he is both criticized and praised in the art world.

As I mentioned earlier, the other reason for my interest in abstract expressionism in general, and in these two painters specifically, is investment potential. Art has proved to be an excellent way of diversifying investor’s portfolios. The growing number of art funds and art advisory services at the leading banks which have hit the headlines in the press recently has confirmed this. Contemporary art, and in this segment, painting, have been shown to be one of the best art investment options. The results of the February’s contemporary art auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s shows that the majority of records prices set were for paintings. Lucian Freud’s portrait of Kate Moss estimated between £2,5m and £3,5m was sold for £3,9m. The second Freud painting present at the same auction, estimated at £1.2m and £1.8m was sold for £4.15m. Surprisingly high prices were also fetched by paintings of Sean Scully, Marlene Dumas, Glenn Brown, Franz Ackermann and many others.

Howard Hodgkin and William Tillyer may be considered as due for an appreciation in value for many reasons. They are leading representatives of abstract expressionism in Britain. They are leaders in the British art market, a market that has shown considerable potential for appreciation over the years, as confirmed by the last study of the Arts Council entitled ’How to Cultivate the Art Market’. This study concludes that the market in the UK has the potential to double its current size. Both Hodgkin and Tillyer work predominantly by painting, a medium that has returned after having been considered out of fashion for many years, with full strength to the art scene. This is confirmed by the auction results and exhibitions such as that at Saatchi Gallery, The Triumph of Painting, as well as by leading commercial galleries as Hauser & Wirth and Victoria Miro. It is interesting to remark that painting has had also the uninterrupted support of high end galleries such as Marlborough Fine Art, Waddington and Bernard Jacobson. Finally, these two artists are represented by a number of top dealers around the world which give their existing market dynamism greater impetus.

Howard Hodgkin’s work has increased in value 100% in the last 5 years. William Tillyer is an artist that could very well be due for a similar reappraisal. Howard Hodgkin’s edition works run from £1,000 to £15, 000 and unique pieces from £50,000 to £500,000. William Tillyer’s edition works run from £300 to £3,000 and his unique pieces go from £5,000 to £150,000. Edition works are an excellent budget solution to decorate interiors with high quality art and style. Unique pieces are a strong statement; add presence to our interiors while representing at the same time status, refinement and sophistication. Both mediums represent cultural support and offer us that special starting point for conversations in our best social gatherings. Above all, their colours are simply fascinating and can go well with a great variety of interior design styles.

It was this powerful blend that has drawn my attention to abstract expressionism and to these two particular British artists to ensure that my latest contribution to an interior design project was as powerful as possible whilst remaining faithful to the client’s taste.

Images are a courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery.

João Correia is Founder and Director of Tambo Gallery, Art Editor of Brazilink and member of the King’Scola Latin American Art Collection Board. For further information please contact 020 7433 1810.

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