Curatorial Art Practice in Ramsgate and beyond

Robyn DENNY: The Content of Abstract Painting

In an interview published in ISIS art journal in 1964, entitled SITUATION: The British Abstract Scene in 1960, ROBYN DENNY remembered:

In about 1956 it was suggested that a number of students at The Royal College should produce an exhibition at the Regent Street Polytechnic which would be a kind of combined show.

This idea of a “combined show” ended up in the realisation of the landmark exhibition Situation at the RBA Galleries in 1960. Organised as a celebration of the large canvas, for which artists were required to produce entirely abstract work of not less than 30 square feet, Situation ‘represented a new professionalism for British artists as well as a synthesis between European and American models’ (Margaret Garlake, 2008).

During the ISIS interview, Robyn Denny gave his own definition of the content of Abstract Painting:

‘No painting should reveal all it has to say as a kind of instant impact. Abstract painting, that is painting that is not about subject matter, if it is any good should be as diverse, and complex, and strange and unaccountable and unnameable as an experience, as any painting of any consequence has been in the past. A painting celebrates a unique kind of human experience, and no human experience is simple or repeatable or has only one kind of meaning. A painting of any consequence will contain innumerable levels of interpretation as any human experience will. Some levels will remain concealed and only reveal themselves later as a result of parallel human situations. It recreates the complexity of the creative process, but it is also an experience that refers to nothing but itself. Any work of art, a real work of art, is indefinable. I find this a way of measuring a picture. If you can list its visual attributes, and this list is the sum of the experience of the work, then it has very little to say. You cannot list, or name, or summarise the human content of any important work. ‘

Robyn Denny, Off Side, 1961, 213.4 x 167.8 cm. Photo by Matthew Hollow

Robyn Denny, Off Side, 1961, 213.4 x 167.8 cm. Courtesy Laurent Delaye Gallery

Situation opened up to a period in which Denny produced ‘some of the most accomplished abstract paintings made in Britain in the twentieth century’ (David Alan Mellor, 2002). In the following decade, he developed a range of works exploring both space and modes of perception, including the large blue-red-green canvas Off Side (Painting 12) in 1961. 

The paintings carry analogies to such forms as arch or control board, both of them designed according human scale. Denny’s paintings imply an ambiance of human use; both the painter’s reach as he is working, and the spectators shared experience of arm’s length and eye height as he faces the painting. (Lawrence Alloway, 1961)

Off Side, now exhibited at the Laurent Delaye Gallery (ROBYN DENNY solo exhibition), was presented in Denny’s solo show at the Molton Gallery in late 1961, and in several remarkable group exhibitions such as New London Situation (New London Gallery, 1961), Robyn Denny/John Ernest (Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, 1966) and The Sixties Art Scene in London (Barbican Art Gallery, 1993).

For more information on the artist, please see Robyn Denny artist page.

Extracts from:

Situation: the British Abstract scene in 1960′, Isis Reviews Developments in Abstract Painting, June 1964, pp. 6-9.

Margaret Garlake, ‘Essay’, in Robyn Denny/Paintings/Collages/1954-1968, exhibition catalogue, Jonathan Clark in association with Laurent Delaye, 2007. Catalogue information available here.

Lawrence Alloway, Robyn Denny Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Molton Gallery, 1961. Quote reprinted in Robyn Denny, Early Works 1955-1977, exhibition catalogue, Jonathan Clark Fine Art and Delaye | Saltoun, 2008, p. 60.  Catalogue information available here.

David Alan Mellor, The Art of Robyn Denny, London, 2002

2 comments on “Robyn DENNY: The Content of Abstract Painting

  1. Pingback: Robyn Denny – Abstract Painting – Experience and Meaning | Untitled Painting

  2. Pingback: Robyn Denny on abstract painting | Just Another Painter

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This entry was posted on 1 November 2013 by in News, Robyn Denny and tagged , , , .

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