Although from strikingly different backgrounds, Stanley Whitney and Alan Uglow are both associated with the post-minimalist painting scene in New York in the 1970s. Post-minimalism, a term coined by art historian Robert Pincus-Witten was seen as a reaction against the minimalism of the 1960s, expanding the ideas of minimalism into a more playful and expansive form. Like many artists of their generation in New York, Stanley Whitney and Alan Uglow put process at the forefront of their practice. Equally, both artists in the series of works presented in this viewing room, have a repetitive and methodical approach to colour, making subtle changes in each piece to show the nuances of juxtaposition and harmony.
Stanley Whitney has explored the possibilities of colour in grids and fields since the 1970s, using a repeated motif to hone his process over a long period. Uglow’s paintings during his entire lifetime, also often contained a field of colour, delineated by blocks of white, rectangle, or tabs, meditating on the complexity and subtly of these small shifts between each work. Where Whitney is intuitive and formally loose, Uglow is meticulous, applying thin flat layers of paint to create delicate variations in colour, tone, and reflectivity.
Excerpt on Stanley Whitney's process written by Jon Yau, 2015
Whitney inverted Minimalism, particularly the rigid, paint-within-the-lines arrangements of Frank Stella and Agnes Martin. Instead of the grid containing the color, Whitney loosened its overall hold by painting blocks of color, one next to another, on square canvases, the largest of which is 96 x 96 inches (basically the full span a person can reach). Whitney’s inversions gained him an immense freedom to be playful and unpredictable, as well enabled him to re-introduce space into what had become airless surfaces. One way he did this was to bring touch back into painting without recalling Abstract Expressionism and mark making, which helps explain the slowness of his development. He had to become masterful in an understated, non-dramatic way.....By opening up the grid and building its structure with block of color by block of color, Whitney pushed back against predetermined systems, which, as we should have all learned by now, calcify over time.
Excerpt from Alan Uglow: From Britain to America by Daniel Sturgis in Tate Papers, Spring 2020
Uglow’s paintings from the late 1960s to his death in 2011 often contained a field – an expanse of clear clean paint – delineated and populated by a vocabulary of rectangles, bands or tabs of another colour. In the Hotel series, a cycle of ten equally scaled paintings on linen or canvas made between 1987 and 1989, the complexity and subtlety of these fields of colour is striking. Uglow described in 1989 how his paintings since he arrived in New York in 1969 had been focused on ‘emptying out’ and creating a painting language, learnt from Rothko and Newman, that used ‘limited means for maximum impact’.23 In Palma 1988 (fig.4), part of the Hotel series, the fields of colour are filled with meticulously applied paint. The surface of the painting is richly modulated, and through the application of skin-like layers almost sculpted to create a subtle physical depth within their surfaces. Throughout his career, Uglow always employed a variety of ways of applying paint and primers to allow for very delicate variations in colour, tone and reflectivity. In some works, he applied up to forty layers of paint, soaked into sponges to reduce the visibility of his hand. He would paint on a variety of supports – wood, metal, canvas, linen – and with a selection of brushes, rollers, and sponges, enabling him to tune each surface to maximum effect. He even took works to be sprayed by art fabricators or car body-shops, or simply left areas of works primed but unpainted.
The Faultless Painter, Alan Uglow, May 22 – July 26, 2011 at Marc Jancou, Geneva
Alan Uglow: The Faultless Painter takes its title from the Robert Browning poem of the same name, celebrating the oft-overlooked Renaissance painter Andrea del Sarto, This carefully selected sample of Alan Uglow's canvases, paintings on aluminum, and works on paper from the 1990s is a modest tribute to a remarkable painter.