Basil Beattie: Cause & Effect at Hales, London

Basil Beattie: Cause & Effect at Hales, London. Images courtesy of the Hales Gallery.
Basil Beattie: Cause & Effect at Hales, London. Images courtesy of the Hales Gallery.
Basil Beattie: Cause & Effect at Hales, London. Images courtesy of the Hales Gallery.

The evocative, monumental abstractions in Cause & Effect were painted over a two-year period, a prolific time for the artist, which culminated in a solo exhibition at Goldsmiths gallery in 1982. Beattie was part of an engaging milieu of artists and academics, and specifically recalls having lengthy discussions with friend, John Hoyland about different approaches to the process of painting. In 1980, Hoyland invited Beattie to exhibit work in the Hayward Annual (Hayward Gallery, London) alongside Gillian Ayres, Anthony Caro, Patrick Caulfield, Ben Nicholson and others.

Beattie has been greatly influenced by The New American Painting show at Tate in 1959, the work of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman particularly resonated. Beattie certainly continued and extended the legacy of Abstract Expressionism in post-war Britain, orchestrating formal visual dynamics in an expansive scale. Interested in the power of abstraction to communicate psychological states, Beattie’s paintings of the 1960s and ’70s had a purely formal approach. In this exhibition, Beattie is still resisting any literal reference to the outside world. However, he is playing with the familial – on the brink of recognition, the paintings remain compellingly allusive.

In 1979, preceding the paintings in this exhibition, funded by a major Arts Council Award, Beattie made a significant trip to New York where he stayed with British sculptor, William Tucker and reengaged with American abstraction. Beattie recalls the breath-taking vitality of the city as well as artists who were working in a much more impulsively than in Britain, noting that there was less anxiety around making work. This brought his own practice into sharper focus, freeing his thinking to make discoveries about his paintings through the creative act of making. These paintings, like those being made in America belong to a new world, expressing a new kind of realism, one that is located in the experience of the work.

Beattie has gained the epithet of a ‘painter’s painter’ and has over a sixty-year career influenced generations, most notably the Young British Artists (YBAs) through teaching at Goldsmiths during the ’80s and ’90s. Marcus Harvey was one of Beattie’s students in 1982 and states:

‘I would describe Beattie’s paintings at that time as “colour field” painting: blooming washes of colour scourged by calligraphic whips of dark paint…Amongst us painting students there was an acknowledgement of and admiration for Beattie’s seriousness and his more intellectual approach.’[1]

Beattie strives to paint in parallel to his consciousness. Often thinking about how the mind finds routes to information as well as how feelings and ideas manifest, the artist states that ‘ideas can start a painting, but ideas cannot be painted.’[2] Attempting to locate fragments of thoughts, at no point is the painting in a fixed position, instead the process is a circular journey of crowding and simplifying.

The paintings in Cause & Effect have centres of activity that the eye is drawn to; whether it be collaged elements; vigorous brushstrokes; or detailed lines scratched into the surface of the paint. Beattie refers to these active areas as ‘constellations’ drawing a parallel to the work of Miró, whose paintings render an inner universe in a recognisable set of symbols.

Beattie views the jostling elements of shape, colour, tone, gesture and spatial interplays as a cast of characters in a behavioural script. These formal ‘characters’ subtly reoccur throughout the works, depicted in the artist’s system of visual codes and painterly language. He implements boundaries and structures with confidence, overshadowing the underneath, removing and layering sections. Beattie creates his own set of rules in order to break them, which makes for challenging paintings full of contradictions.

Resolutely working on one painting at a time, in the studio Beattie creates moments of clarity for himself by looking inwards rather than to the outside world for inspiration. Occupying both mental and physical space, Beattie’s works from this critical period are about the dynamics of human experience – our emotions, memories and fleeting moments.

The exhibition runs in conjunction with Basil Beattie: Pathfinder, on view at Huxley-Parlour (17th January – 15th February 2020), which charts the development of Beattie’s work throughout the 1990s.

[1] Harvey, M. Marcus Harvey Interviews Basil Beattie, Turps Painting Magazine Issue 8, Spring 2010
[2] Basil Beattie in conversation at his studio 05/11/19

Images courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery

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The press release and the photographs are courtesy of the gallery and the artists.

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