Saturday 23 March 2024

Art, 1960-1970 at Tate Britain

In Full Colour, Art, 1960-1970 at Tate Britain.

Social changes, popular media and a new spirit of optimism inspired artists to embrace vibrant, colour-saturated imagery.

In the 1960s, the UK entered a period of relative prosperity, low unemployment and social mobility. Young men were freed from compulsory military service. The contraceptive pill gave women more control over their bodies. The Sexual Offences Art 1967 partially decriminalised gay relationships. The 1965 Race Relations Act prohibited discrimination on racial grounds. Britain became increasingly multicultural, despite immigration laws restricting the entry of Commonwealth citizens.

Colour began to saturate everyday life. New films, music and television, often celebrating North American culture, captivated the nation. This lead to an explosion of popular youth culture led by British pop and rock stars. The hopes and struggles of the time found new expression in a new, bold visual culture of glossy magazines, colour televisions and advertising. Pop art celebrated and reflected on this new consumerism.

The colourful abstract paintings from the USA profoundly influenced some British artists. However, the richness of the 1960s British art is indebted to a broader range of lived experiences and cultural influences. London and its art schools played a crucial role in this development. State support enabled working-class artists from outside the capital to study and pursue their careers. Artists also arrived in London from other European countries, British colonies and newly independent nations.

Anwar Jalal Shemza, Composition in Red and Green, Squares and Circles, 1963

Pauline Boty, The Only Blonde in the World, 1963, (oil on canvas)

Boty painted Marilyn Monroe from a photograph. The actor occupies a thin strip of this canvas, squeezed between green sections. Monroe had died a year earlier. Boty spoke about her 'nostalgia for the things that are now... it's almost like painting mythology, only a present-day mythology'. She identified with the challenges Monroe had faced.  Boty wanted to be taken seriously intellectually and be free to embody her sexuality at a time when the two were seen as mutually exclusive.

To see more of Boty's work go here

David Hockney, A Bigger Splasy, 1967, (acrylic on canvas)

'When you photograph a splasy, you're freezing a moment and it becomes something else. I realise that a splash could never be seen this way in real life, it happens too quickly. And I was amused by this, so I painted it in a very, very slow way'.

Richard Smith, Gift Wrap, 1963, (oil on canvas)

The size and the landscape orientation of Gift Wrap suggest a billboard. At the time Smith was fascinated with product packaging and advertising. Above all, he was interested in creating illusions in painting, giving the work a three-dimensional, sculptural quality. The composition combines abstract and pop art elements.

Paula Rego, The Firemen of Alijo, 1966, (acrylic, oil pastel, charcoal, graphite, resin, ink, paper and aluminium foil on canvas)

Rego used her own expressive drawings to create this richly layered collage. The technique gave her the freedom to explore themes of moral, social and political revolt. Her focus was the Portuguese dictatorship and the suffering it caused. Living in London, Rego reflected on the hardships people were experiencing under the oppressive regine in her home country. This painting stems from a memory the artist had of volunteer firemen, barefoot and huddled against the cold in a small town in northern Portugal.

looking closer

Derek Boshier, The Identi-Kit Man, 1962, (oil on canvas)

The man in this painting seems to be part toothpaste, part jigsaw piece. The figure merges into mass consumer product reflecting the commodification Derek Boshier throught was transforming society. He was also interested in the effects of Americanisation on British life.The work's title references police identikits. Invented in the USA, these sets of pre-drawn facial features helped investigators create images of suspects. Boshier said the figure in the painting 'represents me (us), the spectator, participant, player, or cog in the wheel - the amorphous 'us' ... being manipulated'.

Sandra Blow, Green and White, 1969, (acrylic, ash and charcoal on canvas)

Bridget Riley, Fall, 1963, (polyvinyl acetate on hardboard)

In 1960 Riley started exploring the visual sensation of looking. She investigated the dynamic potential of optical effects. This would become known as Op Art. Riley mostly worked with the contrast of black and white, occasionally introducing different tones of grey. In Fall, she repeated a single curving line to create varying optical frequencies. She said of this work: 'I try to organise a field of visual energy which accumulates until it reaches maximum tension'.


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