Conceptual Art In Britain 1964 – 1979 Tate Britain – 20 August 2016

Having read the Guardian article in preparation for the visit to Tate Britain I was not expecting that much from the visit.  ( One of the reasons I decided to attend this study visit was because my tutor suggested I go and see something which I would find challenging.

However despite my reservations I found many of the exhibits and accompanying materials fascinating and absorbing. In the New Frameworks section there was a discussion via the artworks about 2 paths:-

  • dissolution of sculptural form
  • introduction of textual language into painting

I thought the transitional art pieces – Six Sculptures by Bruce McLean ice, leaves, stones etc showing art being measured as a physical event thought provoking.   Since the 60s we have seen so much of this kind of work it was difficult but necessary to project backwards to a time when these concepts were first being achieved.

Six Sculptures 1967-8 by Bruce McLean born 1944
Six Sculptures 1967-8 Bruce McLean born 1944 Purchased 1973

Art & Language

It has been “suggested that the meaning in art might lie now with the material object itself, but with the theoretical argument underpinning it”. (post Clement Greenberg, Arts & Culture,  1961)

Pieces I Found Interesting

I was going to try to do a walk through review  mirroring the exhibition and pamphlet but have decided that I will list those works which I found interesting and engaging and what I got out of the experience.

The Casual Passer By – Branco Dimitrijevic – photograph taken of a random person and then posters put up on the bus route that passes the art school.

25 feet, 2 hours – Victor Burgin – 8 x 5 card index ordered A – Z and photographs. “The works meaning resides not in the object or the photography but in the questioning from the viewer of the passage between them”.

25 feet two hours 1969 by Victor Burgin born 1941
25 feet two hours 1969 Victor Burgin born 1941 Presented by Tate Members 2010

“I have decided to go to the Tate Gallery next Friday ” – Keith Arnatt – statement as artwork

The Lunch Triangle – Stephen Willoats 1974 – 3 scenes and response sheets filled in by visitors – the role of the viewer.

Dedicated to Unknown Artists – Susan Hiller 1972-6 – 300 postcards of waves crashing on British shore – the artist has “become the curator of an unknown category of miniature artworks”.

Dedicated to the Unknown Artists 1972-6 by Susan Hiller born 1940
Dedicated to the Unknown Artists 1972-6 Susan Hiller born 1940 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 2012

Stephen Willats, Living with Practical Realities  1978 –  Large complex photograph showing old person who has been re-housed into a tower block:-

  • Living with the confines of my new home
  • Living with the present day limitations of a small income
  • Living without the certainty that I will see someone tomorrow
Living with Practical Realities 1978 by Stephen Willats born 1943
Living with Practical Realities 1978 Stephen Willats born 1943 Purchased 1981

Post-Partum Document  – Mary Kelly 1975 – “my lived experience as a mother and my analysis of that experience”.


I am finding it difficult to summarise what I got out of this exhibition but the following springs to mind:-

  • Greater awareness of the layers of meaning and the devices for achieving that which were introduced through the work of artists during this particular period of time
  • Diversity of materials which were introduced to give voice to ideas
  • The role of the viewer in terms of the interpretation of the works
  • The importance of the theoretical underpinning that gave/gives rise to an artwork

I was truly blown away by the complexity of the pieces – particularly the ones that I have mentioned. Although they might have appeared to me in the past to be rather dull or not “arty” enough, i.e. not painting, sculpture I found myself very engaged by their content and drawn towards the cerebral qualities of the pieces.

In some ways I felt overwhelmed by some of them in that they encompassed so much in relatively simple execution. They are satisfying in ways that I had not until now appreciated.


Part 2 – Research Still Life

Still Life  – Research

As I have previously noted in an earlier Reflection I had done all the research and reading at the beginning of this module without taking any notes.   Hence I have had to go through the content again and try and pick up the pieces.

Starting and ending with Morandi via Tacita Dean

I don’t know when I happened upon this article about Tacita Dean (Krcma) but suffice to say that it is about her visit and the making of her film “Day for Night” in Morandi’s studio in Bologna.

A couple of months before starting this drawing course I had visited Bologna, a hidden gem of Italy, and had come across Morandi inevitably.  Unfortunately his studio was undergoing renovation and so the only work which I saw was in the Modern Art Museum. I looked and looked at his paintings and have subsequently spent time reading more (Abramowicz) and am still left with a very blank reaction to his work despite the reverence with which it is held.

So I was captured by another artist’s response to him. Tacita Dean has made a number of films on artists some of whom have subsequently died. (Mario Merz, Joseph Beuys, Cunningham & Cage, Cy Twombly).  Therefore it is with interest that I approach her 3 concerns:-

  • Confrontation with finitude, transience and morality
  • The staging of decelerated and heightened attentiveness to the worn surfaces of the material world
  • The elaboration of formal and conceptual reflexivity which addresses the meaning and value of the artwork as a problem in itself, beyond the technical demands of its making (Krcma)

Evidently what she was captivated by was “the abundant evidence of idiosyncratic procedures and devices” Morandi used. His objects were wrapped, painted or modified in various ways. This reminded me of Cezanne’s still life when he “fixed the objects in their positions by artificial means at the angles he needed for compositional requirements.” (Lloyd)

In naming her film “Day for Night” she also alludes to the Truffaut film (1973) of the same name and the filmic device.

Starting to work on still life drawings I am only just becoming conscious of how many devices are in operation in order to come to the composition of any piece. This includes of course the objects themselves their significance, how they are posed, the light sources, the place etc. etc. That is of course without the political, social, historical, and economic considerations.

I put together a short table to begin to look at the historical development of the genre with significant artists:-

Date Artist/s Place
16th Century Sanchez Coton

1560 -1627

The Pantry


Xenia I – a simple meal – raw

17th Century Cornelis de Heem

1631 – 1695

Jan Davidsz de Heem

1606 – 1684

The Banquet

Xenia II – cooked




18th Century Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin

1699 – 1779

The Kitchen



19th Century Paul Cezanne

1839 – 1906

The Kitchen.

The Dining Room


“Non-Illustrative Discourse”

20th Century Juan Gris

1887 – 1927

Henri Matisse

1869 – 1954

Giorgio Morandi

1890 – 1964

The Café

The Studio

The Home

1920s/30s Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

1895 – 1946

Man Ray




Still life was considered a very minor genre compared to historical painting from the 16th Century onward.   I have related my interest in the early work of Sanchez Coton in relation to the choices of subject and composition for my Assignment 1 composition.

Cotan Still lIfe with Game Fowl

Suffused with meaning Joanna Woodall (Laying the Table 2012) takes up the narrative of Dutch still life into the 17th Century.  Where power, trade, accumulation, wealth and exploitation become the signifiers of the compositions which have moved into the dining room and more significantly depict the banquet. She quotes Roland Bathes (1953) “ Man has washed away religion only to replace it with man and his empire of things….this superficial sheen and shine, this visual intensity as a fetishistic projection on the part of the artist and view.” However it is also made clear that this was an age of emergent scientific thinking and deep philosophical debate on the nature of” knowledge and truth.” (Woodall)

Further reading should include Adorno’s Theories of Aesthetics (1970), Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1934)  and Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida (1980).  There are areas of philosophical and artistic theory which it has not been possible to include at this time.

Stepping briefly into the world of Cezanne Lloyd remarks that “one of the most intriguing aspects of many of Cezanne’s still life’s is the special ambiguities that he introduces into them”.

You could argue that the work of the cubists including Picasso, Baraque and Gris was an extension of this development. Flattening out the planes, tones, colours, and perspectives extends “analytical exercise for the purpose of comprehending the world as he (Cezanne) saw it”. (Lloyd)

Lucy Somers – The Implications of the Still Life in the Context of Contemporary Art” takes on a fairly simplistic interpretation matching her arguments to those of Platonic thinking.

She does however point out that “with modernism, artist began the most dramatic reinvention of the still life has seen, and adapting it as the static clothes horse, on which to hang their post-impressionist and cubist experiments.” Moving on through to the 20th Century where “The attitude now is that art is in the motivation, intention and idea regardless of how it is carried out.”

Bringing us to contemporary work “The value system of a piece have changed wholesale now, by the fact that the very choosing and placement of the objects is now given artistic value.” (Somers)

The “modernist school” for Somers “The statement is not the assemblage of the objects, but the treatment of them…the manipulation and thus the art would be in the viewing of the paining”. However I believe that the artist has constantly been manipulating the “image, field, content, context etc etc.   What has changed is not necessarily how that is being done but in the means by which it is done.

For this I revert to the original article about film being used (and I have not had time to review this in relation to the development of photography from the 19th century and its influences). Note to self – re-read Susan Sontag – On Photography

And Morandi – I still don’t get it – I get Dean’s filmic response to his objects and studio without becoming more appreciative of his paintings. I’ll keep trying!


In terms of looking at contemporary still life I find myself drawn to mainly female photographers whose compositions are funny, mocking and thoughtful.

Krista van der Niet

Krista van der Niet

Laura Letinsky 2

Laura Letinsky


Saara Ekstrom

Emma Bennett

Emma Bennett

Project 2 – Still Life – Intermediary Reflection

Exercise 1 & Exercise 2

Between the 2 exercises it was a case of being able to create some aspects of the drawing easier in one i.e. Exercise 2 was easier to produce tone and depth using the colour and build up of the cross hatching than with just one media, pen and ink.

However the variety of mark making in Exercise 1 was more interesting, diverse and inventive than with the coloured drawing.

Definition of the objects and their relationship to each other is more effective in the coloured drawing.  However some transitional detail in the line drawings particularly the 2nd one of 3 stones has intriguing passages.

The difficulties of choosing just line or tone are usually in those transitions between one object and another or the background/table.   Also in creating individuality of the objects like with the 3 stones in the line drawing.

Colour initially seems easier but allows me to get lazy about looking at what is happening in relation to tone – shadow etc.

(However at this stage I do need to re-do exercise 2 based on the actual instructions).


Exercise 2 – Still life in tone using colour

Actually slightly cheated as I used 4 different colours if you include white!

Found it much easier using colour rather than just line to build tone. Although I am aware I can become lazy by relying on the colour to do the work and my inventiveness with mark making tends to suffer because of it.

Creating tone with just line needs greater precision I think – it is easy to overwork a particular area and then the whole object can become too messy and confusing.

I would like to be more dramatic and dynamic when working with colour – particularly as I tend to choose coloured pencils. Need to think about trying more with pastels but past experiments have not been successful because I tend to loose the precision.



Part 2 – Reflection

I have learnt a very hard lesson whilst working through the Part 2 – Intimacy module.

One of the tendencies I have is to get sucked into research and discovery which I noted during the Part 1 work.   So for this module I thought I would concentrate on the research at the beginning of the module.  I did a lot of reading (see bibliography Part 2) and became very involved in thinking about still life its history and significance.  However at some stage, I can’t remember now how many days I spent on the research, I though I had better get on with some drawing.

However, I now realise on returning to the material some weeks on that I haven’t written up any notes and have completely forgotten where I was going with the thinking and reading.

Consequence 1: – I have now to revisit all the reading and research.

Secondly I was so eager to get on with the drawing, moving from one exercise to the next that I did not write up my blog.

Consequence 2: – I have lost the detailed experience of each piece of work as I created them.

Finally, along the way there were various fleeting thoughts, ideas, associations, flights of fancy that I have also now lost.

Consequence 3:- I have not been able to recreate my conscious and unconscious thought patterns. 

This is a hard lesson…… in my eagerness to move forward I have deprived myself of useful processes and time.

Project 2 – Exercise 4 – Monochrome

Project 2 exercise 4 - finding composition

Did spend quite a lot of time looking for objects to pull together and a setting in which to put them.   Took loads of photos and again started with much too much and too complex to deal with.   Had been looking at quite a lot of contmeporary still life photographers,  Krista van der Niet,  Laura Letinsky and Saara Ekstrom as part of the research into still life generaly. (see images below)

Krista van der Niet

Laura Letinsky 2


So then I paired the objects down and also introduced using a grid which I had made on an acetate sheet.   The grid idea came from a life drawing class which I have been taking for the last couple of months.

Project 2 exercise 4 - final composition

Using the grid to plot the drawing more accurately I find exceedingly difficult because the eye\brain does not necessarily come up with the same outcome and is very confusing.  But I stuck to it for this drawing particularly which made me resent it somewhat and find hard to complete.

Had tried a few sketches in my book to help decide on paper and materials to use. Decided on Khadi paper with water soluble wax crayons and coloured pencils. Was and remain slightly confused by how to remain monochrome when dealing basically with a light colour like yellow. So brought in browns but did not know whether I should have found my tones using greys/black.

Project 2 - Exercise 4 - Monochrome

This piece was really a struggle.   Firstly because I promised myself that I would keep with using the grid to plot the drawing and this was mentally quite a non instinctive way of working for me.  But in terms of the compositional outcome I think it worked better than many of my previous drawings.Again I think this should be chopped down to a square.

Project 2 - Exercise 4 - Monochrome cropped

Not sure?  There is more of the dynamic of the view with the original size but it shows how I tend to tail off top and bottom of a piece and loose overall the density.

I think I have captured the two front lemons and parts of the washing-up gloves.   The corn on the cobs were fading fast by the last day and I did not spend that much time on the detail.  However overall proportion and perspective are better probably due to using the grid.

Did I think this through more – yes I think so but I found it boring as a subject and kept having to remind myself that it was just one exercise. I do like the way the paper works with the lemons and texture f the checked rug.

Overall not as disastrous as I thought it would be!

Project 2 – Exercise 3 – Experiment with Mixed Media

This time I did take lots of photographs before I started drawing.   See sketchbook for photo.  Also I became particularly interested in what the background should be and was thinking about patterned fabric.   Bought a number of 50s & 60s fabrics on Ebay to use.   Find these very evocative and the objects I chose also seem to depict different decades in my life.

Project 2 exercise3 finding still life final

Having originally placed these by a window I felt that there was too much going on and ended up back on the table viewed from above.

Project 2 Exercise 3 Mixed Media 1

Worked with markers, chalk on a pastel paper.   The design of the fabric is fighting with the objects.   I have allowed myself to loosely depict the fabric by concentrating on the pattern effect. Not really successful .   Feel however the movement of the girls dancing by not working in too detailed a fashion.

Project 2 - exercise 3 mixed media 2

Pink pastel paper with a white watercolour wash.  Used oil pastels, ball point pen and markers. This is another drawing where it would work much better in a square format.  I like the texture of the oil pastels but as yet are finding them hard to work with. Maybe it is the size of the work making detail difficult to define.   But the ball point pen unexpectedly adds something particularly for the African head and the dog.

Project 2 - Exercise 3 - mixed media 3

Oil pastels on black paper. Could work but head not well drawn.   On reflection the composition of jut the 3 objects is good – I like the tightness.Background too scribbly and distracting.

Project 2 Exercise 3 - mixed media 4

White paper pre-drawn with water soluble crayons and then water added and left to dry overnight. Had moved the composition around and guess what makes a square!  Overworked in more wax crayon, chalks, drawing pen, and tipp-ex.

What I like:

  • The density
  • The variety of mark making
  • The opacity of the African head and dog

What I don’t think works:

  • The composition
  • Sylvester
  • Everything is floating
  • Background material

Project 2 - Exercise 3 - mixed media 5

Tried again for being more defined?

Paper worked in coloured inks and left to dry over night. Worked with oil pastels, drawing ink, pencil.

Felt a bit more in control of the oil pastels and like their density. The background is still unresolved and the objects are still floating.   Is this a good or bad thing?   The relative size of the objects is not correct but resolves some of the issues caused by the dominance of Sylvester’s black and white.


Making choices in relation to materials to use is hard and deciding on what order to work on in the drawing is confusing.   Some of the drawings would have worked better if I had thought through the different stages, may be make a list of the stages I need to work through.   I am still tending to “go at” drawings in a spontaneous manner and am learning that I need to slow down the thinking.

Am caught between how realistic, perfect drawing I need to achieve versus keeping the drawing lively, interesting and felt.

This is a good link to the next monochrome exercise…..

Project 2 – Exercise 2 – Still Life in tone using colour

Fruit in bowl photo

Fruit in dish coloured pencils

OK I realise I didn’t read the instructions carefully enough on this exercise and just went in and drew using coloured pencils without restricting myself to the 3 colours which had been specified in the exercise.

However, I like what I have achieved with the fruits and bowl.  Particularly I like the build up of the cross hatching and tones created by building up the layers and different directions of the marks.

Learning: I need to read the instructions for the exercises more carefully.  Need to re-do this exercise.


Reworked the exercise using 3 colours and white.   Slight cheat!

Find it easier to work in colour than just line and tone.   However some of the spontaneity of using mark-making tends to disappear so tried to be more adventurous with this version. I think it could take even more and realise I could have gone stronger on the background tone which would have pushed the still life forward more.

Need to be more aggressive with the tones generally in order to create greater depth. Getting better at working round a drawing but need to step away more often in order judge the weights of the colours overall.