Abstract art is easy. There’s something about the whole non-figurative thing that just works on a mass populist level. While abstract experimental music is reserved for sweaty-palmed freaks in dingy toilet venues, its visual counterpart is available in rug-form from Ikea.
I mean, come on, you can get Marc Rothko posters in John Lewis and Jackson Pollock T-shirts in Uniqlo. People, huh?
But standing here, surrounded by lovely examples of 1960s and ’70s American abstraction, it’s easy to see the appeal. Coming in the wake of the overwrought emotionalism of the abstract expressionists, these five artists – part of a thriving East Coast scene – must have been a breath of cool, fresh but still radical air.
Guyanese-British artist Frank Bowling’s three canvases are languid, drippy kaleidoscopes of colour and texture, the paint forming whole spinning galaxies. Kenneth Noland’s odd-shaped works let the canvases become abstract in themselves. Sam Gilliam’s pink spattered image is like Pollock frozen in marble, and Morris Louis’s big grey blob hides a world of pinks and oranges. The whole show is a riot of
experimentation, a freakout with colours.
It’s just really good abstract painting.
There’s a story here too. These artists were working together, supporting each other, competing and fighting and experimenting and trying shit out. They were white guys and black guys jamming their new abstract jazz together. Tate Modern’s mega-successful ‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power’ show, which featured a few of these artists, opened the door for us to celebrate some obscenely overlooked chapters in art history, and this is one of them. Expect to find these paintings on rugs and posters in your nearest department store within the month.