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Basil Beattie

Basil Beattie


Basil Beattie:  Paintings from the Collection

BP New Displays, Tate Britain

5 March – 3 June 2007


Basil Beattie is one of Britain’s most respected abstract painters. Though not as well known to the general public as some, he has a very strong following amongst fellow artists, thanks in part to his teaching career. This display brings together a group of his powerful and suggestive abstractions made since 1990. In these he employs pictograms and spatial components such as steps or enclosed cells to deftly explore the limits and possibilities of abstract pictorial space. The results are beautiful, elegant and evocative. The display is accompanied by a new film about the artist that helps illuminate his concerns and sources of inspiration.

Ayers Rock, Australia

Ins and Outs Series (1) single out 97 Installation at Todd Gallery Installation at Todd Gallery 1 Held Within 05 beattie-janus-series-8-2008 beattie-janus-series-w_paper-8-2007

"Beattie’s work has been responsive to conceptual ideas that place language as central to contemporary art practice and challenge the importance of the expressive gesture in painting. He has evolved a range of pictorial devices that can be understood as alluding to language, which enable him to explore the symbolic and metaphorical associations that arise from these, whilst remaining committed to the physicality of the painted object as the means through which to decipher meaning. His recurrent, essentially abstract motifs can be read as tunnels, steps, ladders or thresholds and are used as the means to manipulate spatial parameters within the paintings and to hint at potential readings that take place in the subconscious. Still abstract in their concerns withmaterial, technical procedure and formal manipulations of space within a two dimensional picture plane Beattie’s paintings offer profound and complex reflections upon how we think and experience."

Installation at Todd Gallery  5 Nov 12 Dec 1998

English painter and printmaker. He studied at West Hartlepool College of Art (1950 -55) and at the Royal Academy Schools, London. He taught at Goldsmiths College, London, from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Influenced by the work the New York artists associated with Abstract Expressionism while still a student at the Academy Schools in the late 50s. Throughout his career his work has always been distinguished by his sensuous and physical use of paint – characteristics which he shares with the Abstraction as practised by other English painters such as John Hoyland, Albert Irvin, and Gillian Ayres – all of whom have developed from that period of American Abstract Expressionist influence.

In the late 60s and into the 70s Beattie was preoccupied with making paintings where there was no trace of the hand.The work was like ‘nature’ not so much in appearance but in the manner by which it was made, where gravity and the consistencies  of paint were fundamental in the forming of the image. These works showed an acute awareness of the work of Morris Louis and Jules Olitski.

It was in 1987, in his exhibition at the Curwen Gallery London, that Beattie’s pictographic language began to evolve. This was followed in 1991 with a drawing Installation – Drawing on the Interior, at the Eagle Gallery London, consisting of 376 drawings. The work explored the emerging imagery, such as ladders, stairways, corridors tunnels, towers, doors, and ziggurats. Many of these images became subjects for paintings. Beattie has said of these images that they were not attempts to paint literal things, but were used as vehicles for conveying symbolic and metaphoric associations. The ziggurat triggered the Witness Series of paintings and a key work titled ‘Present Bound’. The image of the ziggurat in this painting is the only part of the work which is painted – the rest of the linen is left untouched.

The language of the paint defining the image suggests a narrative of vitality and life, while remaining separated and isolated from the surroundings. A metaphor perhaps for a human condition.


Beattie’s current paintings have the collective title of the Janus series. Janus the Roman God, originally of light, who opened the sky at daybreak and closed it at sunset. In time, he came to preside over all entrances and exits. He is often represented as having two faces, one in front and one behind, one to see into the future, and one to see into the past. In this series Beattie uses a stack of three units, sometimes four, to frame a series of horizons, often with perspectival suggestions of travel and journeys. However any resulting illusion of space is contradicted by the raw physicality of the paint. It has been suggested the framing units resemble rear view mirrors and windscreens. Beattie recognises and accepts these references  simply because the view through the windscreen might be said to denote the future and the view in the rear view mirror, the past.

Work from the Janus  series was shown at the Two Rooms Gallery in Auckland, New Zealand in 2008 . A more comprehensive showing of the series will open in September 2009  at the Purdy Hicks Gallery, London. An installation of large related drawings will run concurrently at the Eagle Gallery, London.





Janus Series  2007

Oil stick on paper 151 x 244 cm

The Sight of Night [Janus series] 2008

Oil and wax 198x183 (Private Collection)

Held within 2005

Oil and wax 244x213

Ins and Outs  Series  Single out 2007

BOOK LARGE WORKS book cover present bound 1 Basil11 Basil12