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Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber Ocula Report Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber 15 Mar 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...

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Diana Campbell Betancourt Ocula Conversation Diana Campbell Betancourt

Diana Campbell Betancourt is a curator working predominantly across South and Southeast Asia. Since 2013 she has been the founding artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a transnational art event that has grown in size and scale ever since its first edition in 2012. Backed by...

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Chinternet Ugly at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art Ocula Report Chinternet Ugly at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art 7 Mar 2019 : Mike Pinnington for Ocula

China, home to 802 million internet users, is subject to sophisticated online censorship. This shrouded state of affairs, unsurprisingly perhaps, serves to reinforce stereotypes around conformity elsewhere. Any realm, digital or otherwise, subject to such strict scrutiny must necessarily be bland and uncritical, right? I was mulling over such...

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Robert Motherwell

(1915 - 1991), USA

Producing an extensive body of abstract paintings, drawings, collages and prints between the 1930s and late-1980s, American artist Robert Motherwell was one of the leading figures of the Abstract Expressionist movement, alongside the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. He was also known for his critical writings on subjects including Surrealism and Piet Mondrian.

Born in 1915 to a wealthy family in Aberdeen, Washington, Motherwell initially studied art at the Otis Art Institute. Later, he attended Stanford University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. His aspirations to become an artist were stirred on a year-long European excursion during his graduate studies at Harvard in 1938. (While he wrote his thesis in Europe, it was later lost on his trip back to America.) Inspired by French Modernist painters in Paris, he began his career as an artist there and held his first show at the Raymond Duncan Gallery in 1939.

Motherwell arrived in Europe when the Spanish Civil War was reaching its bloody conclusion. This lost political cause left a strong impression on Motherwell; in 1948, he began his long-running, iconic 'Elegy to the Spanish Republic' series. In this series of hundreds of paintings produced between 1948 up until the artist's death in 1991, most canvases share the same abstract motif: oval black shapes trapped between black, vertical rectangular bars that rhythmically divide a white canvas—a metaphor for life, death, heroism and resistance.

Upon moving to New York in 1940, Motherwell studied art history—at his father's behest—at Columbia University under art historian Meyer Schapiro. In 1941, he began to meet various European Surrealists living in exile in New York including Roberto Matta. This exposure to Surrealist concepts of expressing subconscious through spontaneous movements had a lasting impact on his practice, and Motherwell suspended his academic studies to paint full-time.

These notions, too, had a lasting impact on the New York School clique of Abstract Expressionists, to whom Motherwell was introduced by artist William Baziotes. This pioneering group included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. Abstract Expressionism was an inward-looking style that emphasized the performative act of painting and artist as subject. In 1944, Motherwell was invited to hold a solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery in New York. This was a career-making moment for Motherwell, as it had been for Pollock and Baziotes before him.

Motherwell's paintings walked the line between the two main forms of Abstract Expressionism: colour field painting and action painting. While the former was about the contrasts between bold planes of colour, action painting sought to reveal paint texture and the movement of the artist. Motherwell's art-making process was emotional in its bold, expressive brushstrokes made from spontaneous movements. This style was combined with a formal system that was denoted by more restrained brushstrokes, considered structure, vivid colour contrasts and strong-but-simple shapes.

Besides being an artist, theorist and writer, Motherwell was also a widely read editor and teacher, though he was more heavily engaged in these pursuits during the late-1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s, his focus returned to producing art.

Collage was a fundamental aspect of Motherwell's practice. Key early experimentations such as Personage (Autoportrait) (1943) used a wide range of found materials. For the work, Motherwell glued various kinds of cut and torn paper to paperboard in rough but structured grid-like patterns, applying gouache and ink over them. Later collages, such as In White with Four Corners (1964), were more restrained, involving only a few select pieces of paper pasted onto a monochromatic background. While some of his contemporaries soon lost interest in the technique, Motherwell persisted throughout his career. From the 1960s onwards, Motherwell began incorporating materials of his studio life such as letters, labels from artist supplies, and cigarette packets, with planes of colour applied around and over.

Unlike the other Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell enthusiastically embraced printmaking, especially lithography as an extension of collage. From 1961, he made limited-edition prints, producing over 200 editions over the next 30 years. He particularly took advantage of the planes of vivid colour lithography could produce.

In the 1970s, while continuing to develop older black-and-white motifs, Motherwell expanded his use of colour in painting. The most well-known example of this expansion is his 'Opens' series, which features broad planes of colourful acrylic disrupted by simple linear geometric forms. In the decade preceding his death in 1991, the artist's works became more fluid and lucid. His 1980s series, 'The Hollow Men', placed greater emphasis on his expressive brush strokes and spontaneous subconscious drawing (all combined on one canvas), revisiting the core values of his Abstract Expressionist style.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2019
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Featured Artworks

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Royal Dirge by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork Robert MotherwellRoyal Dirge, 1972 Acrylic on canvas
182.2 x 137.2 cm
Templon
Untitled (Open) by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork Robert MotherwellUntitled (Open), 1970 Acrylic and graphite on canvas
40.6 x 50.8 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries
Open No. 126: In Beige with Blue by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork Robert MotherwellOpen No. 126: In Beige with Blue, 1970 Acrylic on canvas
61 x 76.2 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries
Untitled (Open in Yellow, Black and Blue) by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork Robert MotherwellUntitled (Open in Yellow, Black and Blue), 1970 Acrylic and charcoal on canvas board
25.4 x 61 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries
Open No. 45: In Blue with Brown by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork Robert MotherwellOpen No. 45: In Blue with Brown, 1969 Acrylic and charcoal on canvas
55.9 x 71.1 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries
Open Study (White Line on Beige No. 2) by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork Robert MotherwellOpen Study (White Line on Beige No. 2), 1968 Acrylic and graphite on paper
77.5 x 55.9 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries
Study for Open Series by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork Robert MotherwellStudy for Open Series, 1968 Acrylic and graphite on paper
15.2 x 21 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries
La Cuisinière by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork Robert MotherwellLa Cuisinière, 1967 Pasted paper and crayon on paperboard
101 x 68.6 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries

Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Robert Motherwell, ARRIVING AT REALITY: Robert Motherwell’s “Open Paintings” and Related Collages at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong
Closed
9 January–15 March 2019 Robert Motherwell ARRIVING AT REALITY: Robert Motherwell’s “Open Paintings” and Related Collages Pearl Lam Galleries, H Queen's, Hong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Robert Motherwell, ARRIVING AT REALITY: Robert Motherwell’s “Open Paintings” and Related Collages at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong
Closed
9 January–15 March 2019 Robert Motherwell ARRIVING AT REALITY: Robert Motherwell’s “Open Paintings” and Related Collages Pearl Lam Galleries, Pedder Street, Hong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Robert Motherwell, Open Series at Templon, Paris
Closed
17 May–21 July 2018 Robert Motherwell Open Series Templon, 30 rue Beaubourg, Paris

Represented By

In Related Press

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Tumultuous Absorption Related Press Tumultuous Absorption Aesthetica Magazine : 13 February 2017

Two or three muted, but skillfully executed, pieces of portraiture slowly lead the viewer to paintings with the merest hint of figures, before dissolving entirely into realms of line, colour, light and rhythm. This is just the first room of the major Abstract Expressionism show at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, fresh from a groundbreaking run at...

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What Summer slowdown? Seattle Art Fair expands Related Press What Summer slowdown? Seattle Art Fair expands The Art Newspaper : 4 August 2016

Against the grain of the art market’s traditional summer slowdown, the Seattle Art Fair is growing after a successful launch last year. Forty-six newcomers, including New York’s Pace/MacGill and Marlborough galleries, are among more than 80 exhibitors (up from 62) participating in the second edition this August. Founded by the...

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The world is our home. A poem on abstraction Related Press The world is our home. A poem on abstraction Art Asia Pacific : 18 February 2016

At a time when the traversing of borders, by people, information and culture, is at the forefront of international consciousness and concern, Para Site, an independent art center in Hong Kong, is presenting an exhibition of four postwar artists whose outputs have shown just how fluid such boundaries can be. Held in Hong Kong’s North Point...

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Iran Has Been Hiding One of the World's Great Collections of Modern Art Related Press Iran Has Been Hiding One of the World's Great Collections of Modern Art Bloomberg : 17 November 2015

Inside the rotunda of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, a circular walkway spirals down from the street level, like an underground version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York. A series of galleries branches out from there, giving up astonishing secrets from one of the finest—if forgotten—collections of 20th century art in the...

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