Robert Motherwell, Sam Francis, Clyfford Still

I have recently been to the RA Abstract Expressionism exhibition which has had a huge impact on my own interpretation of how I might approach figurative images going forward.

Robert Motherwell

I was able to see the Jacobson Gallery exhibition at the same time as the RA one – Motherwell’s work feels incredibly important to my own practice.  There is a sense of the sacred in his work – that he is capturing an intuitive expression of spirit.

In an article for the RA, Gill Crabbe writes:-

In looking at abstract painting in particular, there is the possibility of being liberated from the conceptualisation that often dominates our experience, say, of figurative art – that is, if we can suspend our compulsion to form associative thoughts, as when likening the juxtaposition of forms, say, to a landscape. If we resist imputing some figurative meaning and simply encounter the work as direct experience in the ‘here and now’ we can enter into a dialogue with the work that points to a more authentic encounter. This is when we see only what we see, sense only what we sense, in the moment.”

(link to article:-)

The art of contemplation: Mindfulness in galleries, Crabbe G. 2016: Royal Academy of Art

This succinctly describes one of the intentions for my work.  I would like to move my figurative painting into the abstract realm and gives me much to contemplate when making decisions about the processes and working methods of my work.

I find the colour palette and mark making/painting styles uplifting and engaging in Motherwell’s work.  It feels ancient and fresh at the same time.  This is definitely a style of work that reflects the emotional connection to the viewer that I am looking to create with my own work.

Sam Francis

There is an incredibly powerful painting in the Abstract Expressionism exhibition called ‘Untitled’ 1956 which encapsulates the fluidity I would like to see in my own work.  Francis has balanced the negative blank spaces around the canvas to give the gestural brushwork room to breathe – there is a shift in energy created by colour choices and shape from the lower to the upper part of the canvas.  The blues are denser and more intense, the top part of the canvas glowing with reds and yellows.  The  drips also add to the spontaneity of the piece and the overall impact of the painting is one of ‘uplift’.

When considering his smaller works from a later period on the above website, I am interested in his use of colour, there is a strength and boldness that comes through without being overpowering.  It is also interesting to see the effects he can create using acrylic paint – there is a real density to the paint – something I wouldn’t have attributed to acrylic – which leads me to realise I need to experiment further with what acrylic paint can do even though I would consider myself to be relatively experienced using it.

Clyfford Still

I am interested in Still’s work from the late 40’s onwards.  The scale, texture, colour combinations are all incredibly powerful.  It is impossible not to be involved with his work.  I find the pieces in the exhibition to be absolutely breathtaking.  I don’t know how to, but this is something I want to experiment with in my own work.  It feels as though the texture and colour choices are so important – and yet the shapes of the forms also have a huge impact when viewing his work.  Again, this is something that I need to experiment with – to know enough about my medium to be able to work out what forms will have a specific impact on the viewer, and what textures, colours etc to choose to enhance that experience.


Please refer to my research sketchbook for further research and investigation into experimentation with painting methods.


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