Charting unprecedented experiments in pure colour and improvisational techniques, IMPULSE features works by artists Frank Bowling, Ed Clark, Sam Gilliam, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland that demonstrate the freeform and highly innovative breakthroughs in 1960s and 70s Abstraction. IMPULSE remains on view at Pace, 6 Burlington Gardens until 22 December 2017. It is co-curated by Tamara Corm, and Amelie von Wedel and Pernilla Holmes, Wedel Art.
Emerging from the dominance of Abstract Expressionism in the 50s, Frank Bowling, Ed Clark, Sam Gilliam, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland each experimented with new techniques to push the language of abstraction forward.
As Adrienne Edwards, Curator at the Walker Art Centre and Performa, stated in her essay : “Abstract art from this period has had a long history of misrecognition, which is why we find ourselves ─ mainstream art world institutions such as museums and galleries ─ only now, nearly twenty years into the twenty-first century, contending with the manifold circuits of exchange among artists of varied backgrounds and shared interests in approaches to abstraction. Though critical assessments of history and individual accounts reveal the fact that many artists, curators, and critics of the time were well aware of one another, you might never know it. ” Interpolating Colour, essay for the catalogue of the exhibition.
More recently, the work of these luminaries are being reevaluated in major exhibitions such as Soul of a Nation at Tate Modern, Bowling’s recent survey exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor at the Haus Der Kunst and Gilliam’s upcoming solo-exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel.
While Noland eliminated highly personal, gestural expression in favour of hard-edged abstraction, others poured, dripped, and pushed paint across the surface of the canvases. Many had the desire to break down the distinction between painting and sculpture, to create paintings that were physical objects as well as abstractions. Clark and Noland, for example, shaped their canvases, using their unconventional forms as vehicles for colour, while Gilliam beveled the edges of his canvases and eventually took them off the stretcher all together.
Jazz was often a source of inspiration for some of these artists, and a metaphor for how they worked. Between 1960 and the late 1970s, experimental labels such as Columbia and El Saturn released jazz by musicians including John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Ornette Colman and Sun Ra. These musicians took the principles of free jazz to extremes with their embrace of improvised melodies and techniques. Their approaches are echoed in the precociously experimental practices of some of the artists in the exhibition. Noland described jazz musicians as “fellow modernists” and linked painting in this period to music: “what was new was the idea that something you painted could be like something you heard.” (quoted in Karen Wilkin, Kenneth Noland (New York: Rizzoli, 1990), p. 8).
Images: Installation images of IMPULSE presented by Pace London Copyright Pace Gallery, Photography by Damian Griffiths