CCS The Meaning of Style: Design and Communication

Victor Pasmore-‘Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink’

Many different styles can be characterised as Modernist, but they shared certain underlying principles: a rejection of history and applied ornament; a preference for abstraction; and a belief that design and technology could transform society”.(1)

Found on level two in room two of the Tate Modern Museum currently in the Abstraction and Society exhibition is a sculpture that epitomizes modernism to me. Created by arguably the most influential abstract artist in Britain, Victor Pasmore. A British architect, artist and pioneer of abstract art. Victor Pasmore’s Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink follows the key design features of a modernist piece with its simplistic yet effective look and use of multiple different materials of its time such as perspex and painted wood. The sculpture fits perfectly in the exhibition where it hangs from the ceiling and very much stands out surrounded by plenty of abstract paintings by the likes of Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger and Hélio Oiticica. But why did Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink stand out to me amongst the rest? Why did it scream modernism to me? What makes It an extremely modern piece of design to me?

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‘Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink’ personal photography by Hannah Gilbank. 20th January 2016. 

The way it is designed and presented in the exhibition to make such an impact as it does as it hangs from the ceiling in front of a perfectly white wall as if the blocks are floating through the clear perspex “It comprises a rectangular, transparent Perspex sheet which is pierced by a collection of twenty-three wooden blocks that project out of it on either side. The blocks are arranged in an asymmetrical composition that is mostly concentrated around the middle and towards one side of the plastic sheet. They vary in size and in shape: while most are cuboid, some are slightly slanted and one is curved. The blocks’ longer sides are predominantly painted an off-white colour through which the tone and grain of the wood are visible, although some also have lines or areas of colour on their sides. Each of their smaller ends is painted in one of the colours listed in the work’s title. There is also one long, thin wooden strip that is painted black and runs horizontally across the Perspex sheet just below the centre of the composition, projecting well beyond the sheet’s edge. The relief is designed to be seen from all sides and it is therefore displayed suspended at a distance from the wall”.(2)

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 ‘Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink’ personal photography by Hannah Gilbank. 20th January 2016. 

Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink was created in 1963, the same year in which Pasmore was appointed a trustee of the Tate gallery. The sculpture was purchased by the Tate Modern museum in 2005 and is currently part of the Abstraction and Society exhibition which displays works reliant apon geometric abstraction from different moments in the twentieth century that reflect the aspiration to invent a new society. This aspiration is a well known ideology directly linked to modernism.

Pasmore believed that art derived from nature and that was his main influence which is shown clearly through Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink with Victor’s use of wood in the sculpture but his use of perspex also shows the machine made influence amongst his modernist art. The various colours and way in which the sculpture appears different from all sides and angles screams abstract and modernity. “Whereas in representational art the spectator is confined to a point which is always at a distance from the object, in abstract form he must handle, feel, move around and get into the work if he is to fully apprehend the intentions of the artist”.(3)

Abstract art itself was a key part in the modernist movement. “During the 1950s and 1960s Pasmore made work that is commonly referred to as ‘constructivist’ or ‘constructed abstract art’. These terms partly point to the fact that the artists works were often made by assembling components in a collage-like manner, rather than through sculpting or carving a material as had been the convention in modern British sculpture. This process of assembly is evident in Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink, which notably consists of machine-made parts, such as the Perspex sheet, as well as handmade ones”.(4)

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 ‘Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink’ personal photography by Hannah Gilbank. 20th January 2016. 

Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink is a one off piece by Pasmore so is of course best fitted in a museum such a Tate Modern where it can be seen and admired by thousands of people from around the world rather than have been sold to someone for their home décor and as Victor is a trustee of the Tate Gallery this piece was bought by them and stays there along with some other works of his that was either donated from him himself or bought after he had passed.

Compared to other sculptural modern pieces created around this time this piece stands out for me with Pasmore’s use of perspex and multiple bold colours.”While abstract painting seeks to express intangible ideas and emotions upon a two-dimensional surface, abstract sculpture gives conceptual subject matter weight, form, and depth in three-dimensional space. An abstract sculpture, whether wall-mounted or in the round, can serve as an eye-catching, decorative focal point”.(5)

Modernism is “characterised by a deliberate rejection of the styles of the past; emphasising instead innovation and experimentation in forms, materials and techniques in order to create artworks that better reflected modern society” (6) and Pasmore’s sculpture certainly demonstrates this well. Along with many other of Pasmore’s sculptures “he gave them the impersonal precision and finish of machine products”(7) which is a common doing of modernist artist behind inspired by the want for a modern society and reflecting the introduction of machinery and other modern things as a strong influence and inspiration in their art.

Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink stood out to me that day I visited the Tate Modern gallery. I had never been to the Tate Modern before or many other art galleries or exhibitions even to be honest and I really had no clue on what I would be seeing there. When I spotted Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink I knew it would be the object Id choose to write this post on. It screamed modern to me more than any other object of design I had seen that day.

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 ‘Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink’ personal photography by Hannah Gilbank. 20th January 2016. 

When I think of modernism in design I think of something simple yet interesting and effective, I visualize something that has all the modern elements that feature prominently in Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink. A contrast of natural and machine made materials. Creating from imagination. Geometry and abstraction. A belief and use of industrial materials, techniques and technology.

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 ‘Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink’ personal photography by Hannah Gilbank. 20th January 2016. 

If you ever get the chance to visit the Tate Modern gallery make sure you take a look at Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink from all possible angles as Victor Pasmore intended.Hopefully you will think about the meaning behind the sculpture and other modernist pieces of design and modern styles in and around the Tate Modern gallery rather than just seeing some strange bits of oddly shaped painted wood through clear perspex as I am sure others have seen from just a first quick glance and which im guilty of seeing before doing my research and taking a interest in the sculpture. There is always a much deeper meaning behind modern designs than you first might believe. When I first saw Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink I would not of been able to guess that the sculpture was a representation of Pasmore’s ideas of growth and abstract harmony being bought together in three dimension as I am very sure I am not alone in admitting that and that is the beauty of modern design and why I love it so much and believe it should be appreciated much more than it is.

 

 

1.http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/m/modernism/

2.http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/pasmore-abstract-in-white-green-black-blue-red-grey-and-pink-t11978/text-summary – David Hodge, September 2015

3. Victor Pasmore, ‘What is Abstract Art?’, Sunday Times, 5 February 1961, p.21

4.http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/pasmore-abstract-in-white-green-black-blue-red-grey-and-pink-t11978/text-summary – David Hodge, September 2015

5.http://www.saatchiart.com/sculpture/abstract-

6.http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/m/modernism

7.http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/artists/victor-pasmore- The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)

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