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Aesthetic Radicalism in 'Awakenings’ at Singapore’s National Gallery Ocula Report Aesthetic Radicalism in 'Awakenings’ at Singapore’s National Gallery 21 Jun 2019 : Sam Gaskin for Ocula

Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s–1990s, a major retrospective at Singapore's National Gallery (14 June–15 September 2019), opens emphatically in flames. At the exhibition's entrance, viewers encounter a wall-sized image from 1964 titled Burning Canvases Floating on the River. The photograph captures a performance by Lee, in which he took...

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Thomas J Price: Reframing Classical Sculpture Ocula Conversation Thomas J Price: Reframing Classical Sculpture

When the London-born artist Thomas J Price graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Chelsea College of Arts in 2004, the school's college art prize was by no means his most notable accomplishment as an emerging artist. In 2001, Price presented his much-talked-about work Licked, a daring performance, later profiled on the BBC 4 television...

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'Sites Encountered': A Chorus of Five Artists at M+ Pavilion Ocula Report 'Sites Encountered': A Chorus of Five Artists at M+ Pavilion 21 Jun 2019 : Emily Verla Bovino for Ocula

Without punctuation, She Said Why Me, the title of May Fung's 1989 video presents itself as a statement, rather than a question. It suggests a subject who expects no response, a person prepared to make what she can from being chosen though perplexed by the attention. The video follows a blindfolded woman, then unmasked, through late colonial-era...

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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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Open with Elegy by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork
Robert MotherwellOpen with Elegy, 1968 Acrylic and graphite on Arches watercolour rag paper
15.2 x 19.4 cm
Running Elegy II, Blue State by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork
Robert MotherwellRunning Elegy II, Blue State, 1983 Etching and aquatint in colours, on George Duchêne Hawthorne of Larroque handmade paper
45.7 x 91.4 cm
Barakat Contemporary
Gesture IV by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork
Robert MotherwellGesture IV, 1976-77 Lift-ground etching with aquatint in colours on JB Green paper
Barakat Contemporary
Automatism Elegy (State II Buff) by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork
Robert MotherwellAutomatism Elegy (State II Buff), 1980 Lithograph
40.3 x 50.8 cm
Barakat Contemporary
Elegy Fragment II by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork
Robert MotherwellElegy Fragment II, 1985 Aquatint, lift-ground etching and aquatint on Georges Duchene Hawthorne of Larroque handmade
87.6 x 61 cm
Barakat Contemporary
Stephen's Iron Crown Etched by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork
Robert MotherwellStephen's Iron Crown Etched, 1982 Aquatint, lift-ground etching and aquatint on German Etching paper
64.1 x 71.8 cm
Barakat Contemporary
At the Edge by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork
Robert MotherwellAt the Edge, 1984 Aquatint and lift-ground etching on Auvergne a la Main Richard de Bas handmade paper
57.8 x 63.8 cm
Barakat Contemporary
Mexican Night II by Robert Motherwell contemporary artwork
Robert MotherwellMexican Night II, 1984 Etching and aquatint in colours on Whatman paper
44.5 x 44.5 cm
Barakat Contemporary

Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, A line (a)round an idea Selected Works on Paper at Gagosian, Geneva
Open Now
2 May–27 July 2019 Group Exhibition A line (a)round an idea Selected Works on Paper Gagosian, Geneva
Contemporary art exhibition, Robert Motherwell, Elegy at Barakat Contemporary, Seoul
6 March–12 May 2019 Robert Motherwell Elegy Barakat Contemporary, Seoul
Contemporary art exhibition, Robert Motherwell, ARRIVING AT REALITY: Robert Motherwell’s “Open Paintings” and Related Collages at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong
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

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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