Kaleidoscope: Works in Focus

British art of the 1960s is noted for its bold, artificial colour, alluring surfaces and capricious shapes and forms, yet these exuberant qualities are often underpinned by a strong sense of order, founded on repetition, sequence and symmetry.

 

In the series of films below, Senior Curator Natalie Rudd introduces a number of key works from Arts Council Collection Touring Exhibition, Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art.

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Bridget Riley

Movement in Squares, 1962

Bridget Riley studied at Goldsmiths College (1949–52) and at the Royal College of Art (1952–55) in London. Riley represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1968 where she was the first British artist to be awarded the International Prize for Painting. Movement in Squares (1961) is an important early example of Riley’s mature and distinctive style, and the artist herself sees the work as marking the beginning of her breakthrough into pure abstraction. Working only in black and white, Riley used simple geometric shapes – squares in this instance – to create an intense and unsettling optical experience. The height of the squares remains constant across the entire canvas, but minute differences in the width creates the sense of a structural contraction towards the centre of the painting.

 

Anthony Caro

Slow Movement, 1965

Anthony Caro played a central role in the development of British sculpture in the second half of the twentieth century. Caro worked as an assistant to Henry Moore in the 1950s, but abandoned his early figurative work after encountering the sculpture of the American artist, David Smith. A highly influential tutor at St Martin’s School of Art, Caro was committed to sculpture as a social activity. He abolished individual studio spaces and insisted on discussing sculpture with his students in group ‘crits’. Slow Movement (1965) is one of many abstract works that Caro produced in the 1960s, constructed by welding and bolting pieces of industrial scrap steel together. There is a tension between the three elements of the work, which together forge a sense of passage, articulating the surrounding space.

Tim Scott

Quinquereme, 1966 

Tim Scott studied architecture at St Martin’s School of Art in London (1954–59) whilst also attending the sculpture course on a part-time basis. He went on to teach at St Martin’s alongside Michael Bolus, Phillip King and William Tucker, becoming the Head of the Sculpture Department in 1980. Quinquereme (1966) is one of three sculptures by Scott inspired by and named after a Roman galley ship. An ancient Roman quinquereme had five levels of oarsmen, in contrast to the trireme which had three, and the quadreme with four. Quinquereme was one of the first works in which Scott began experimenting with vertically positioned sheets of acrylic, in contrast to his earlier acrylic works where the sheet is bent or formed to create a sense of volume. Despite its structural complexity, Quinquereme is composed of a limited selection of simple geometric shapes which are repeated throughout the structure.


Richard Smith

Trio, 1963 

Following his studies at the Royal College of Art in London (1954–57), Richard Smith moved to New York in 1959 to teach. Smith’s work at this time drew influence from the scale, colour and gesture of American abstract painting, while embracing the visual languages of popular culture and consumerism. Smith’s work of the 1960s explored the space between abstraction and representation, and between art and everyday life. His paintings are cinematic in scale and reference the bold designs of billboards, packaging and advertisements. An interest in three-dimensionality is also visible, as seen in the three successive forms in Trio (1963). As the artist noted, colour is important: ‘the actual image in my paintings tends to dissolve into this high colour thing’. 

Barry Flanagan

Heap, 1967 

Barry Flanagan studied architecture at Birmingham College of Art before attending the sculpture course at St Martin’s School of Art in London. heap 4 (1967) is a fine example of the radical sculpture Flanagan made during the 1960s, described by the art historian Charles Harrison as ‘disturbingly organic’. Flanagan often worked with soft materials such as sand, muslin, rope and hessian – malleable materials which are free to form themselves. In heap 4, one of a series of ‘heap’ works, sand-filled hessian bags are informally piled on top of one another, with gravity dictating the final form.

Joe Tilson

Zikkurat 7, 1967 

Joe Tilson worked as a carpenter and cabinet maker before serving in the RAF until 1949. After military service he studied at St Martin’s School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art in London. One of the leading figures of British Pop art, Tilson received critical acclaim for paintings and collage constructions which combine themes of consumer culture and mass media with an enduring interest in ancient civilisations and myths. In Zikkurat 7 (1967), for example, the joyful rainbow-like colours appear to reflect the world of popular culture, however the overall composition makes direct reference to the stepped pyramidal structures built by ancient civilisations in Mesopotamia.

Tess Jaray

St. Stephen's Way, 1964

Following her studies at St Martin’s School of Art (1954–57), and the Slade School of Fine Art (1957–60), Tess Jaray travelled to Italy and France, where she drew influence from Renaissance architecture. Jaray’s paintings of the 1960s are often suggestive of an interior, with simple lines, repeated forms and flat zones of colour employed to delineate space, structure and scale. As the artist explains: ‘St Stephen’s Way (1964) was titled after the Cathedral in Vienna, which I saw for the first time in 1957, when I was 19 and just before I went to the Slade. The colour makes some reference to the tiling of the roof, and the faintly Gothic feel to the painting was in part, though in part only, my memory of the power of the Gothic interior of the cathedral, particularly arresting in those days when it was barely lit. It has remained in my mind.'

 

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The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With nearly 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyondThis website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.