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Robyn Denny    (British, 1930)

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Robyn Denny, born in Surrey in 1930, is one of a legendary group who transformed British art in the late 1950s, leading it into the international mainstream. He studied at the Royal College of Art in the mid-1950s, among a generation that included Richard Smith and Alan Green. Inspired by Abstract Expressionism, American films, popular culture and urban modernity, they recognised abstract painting as their only conceivable route. Denny’s idiosyncratic contemporary voice emerged with the first of the public art projects that have punctuated his career: a mural for the Austin Reed store in Regent Street, London which read ‘Great big biggest wide London’; it epitomised the optimism and confidence of the city at the dawn of the 1960s. As an intensely urban man, the scale and format of Denny’s work relate to built environments, to the human presence among structures rather than to nature.
From 1950 to 1954 he studied in Paris and at St Martin’s School of Art, London, followed by two years National Service in the Royal Navy. After graduating from the Royal College in 1957 he was awarded a scholarship to study in Italy, then taught part-time at Hammersmith School of Art, the Slade School of Art and the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham. An active and distinguished career has included participation in ground-breaking exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States. They include a retrospective at the Tate Gallery (1973); ‘Place’ (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1959); ‘Situation’ (RBA Galleries, London, 1960); ‘London: the New Scene’ (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Minneapolis and north American tour, 1965); Venice Biennale, 1966 and ‘The Sixties Art Scene in London’ (Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1993). In 1981 Denny moved to Los Angeles, returning to London in the 1990s. In California he found a congenial urban environment and a natural light, including the notorious smog, that captivated him and enabled him to develop a new aesthetic.
Among the paintings that Denny made at the Royal College are rudimentary images of heads, indebted to French Tachisme, with dripped and dribbled paint and an occasional discreet patch of fashionable burnt bitumen. These were interspersed with abstract collages and large gestural paintings which display the broad gestures and bold marks of American Abstract Expressionism, exhibited in London in 1956 and 1959. Other works, like Denny’s early murals, contain vestiges of letters and numerals, in an echo of contemporary French lettriste painting. In 1959 the deceptively simple canvases that he showed in the ‘Place’ exhibition had, like other works made at this time, a horizontal band at their base. Set directly on the floor, unframed, they invited the viewer to cross a rudimentary threshold, acknowledging the corporeal presence of a viewing body without offering any concessions to illusion.
In this way ‘Place’ initiated a reformulation of the understanding of pictorial space for the 1960s. Denny continued his exploration of space though the decade, starting with ‘Situation’ in 1960, an exhibition organised as a celebration of the large canvas, for which artists were required to produce entirely abstract work of not less than 30 square feet. ‘Situation’ (the title referred to ‘the situation in London now’) represented a new professionalism for British artists as well as a synthesis between European and American models. For Denny it opened the period in which he produced ‘some of the most accomplished abstract paintings made in Britain in the twentieth century’ (David Mellor, 2002). During the 1960s he developed a range of work which explores both space and modes of perception. From lines and bands of colour that read as stripes on plain grounds, proposing a space containing a vertical form analogous to the viewer, Denny developed the ‘Out-Line’ group where symmetrical forms are surrounded by a transparent linear structure. With the ‘Lineaments’ this structure became the central, hieratic, almost portal-like focus of the work. In the mid-1960s he introduced oblique lines then, in the ‘Overpaintings’, fragmented structures defiantly at odds with their enclosing squares and rectangles.
In 1969 Denny organised an exhibition for the Arts Council on the American artist Charles Biederman, who for over 20 years worked exclusively on vividly coloured abstract reliefs. This experience coincided with a new intensity of colour in Denny’s work, shifting from rich, dark harmonies to high, bright contrasts, from a sense of twilight to daylight. Formats also changed, notably in the three-dimensional perspex ‘Colour Boxes’ and the ‘Horizontal Paintings’ of the early 1970s which run in a concentrated block across the base of the canvas.
Despite the overall balance and resolution of the 1960s paintings they are inherently contradictory, challenging the viewer’s perceptual expectations. There is neither ‘figure’ nor ‘ground’ but a constant process of visual adjustment; space is thus an ambiguous mental construct rather than a familiar physical quality; colour produces flicker effects and becomes unstable and scale, in works where nothing is certain, is perhaps the greatest conundrum as there is nothing to compare it with. But these perceptual and intellectual dilemmas are what define Denny’s 1960s paintings, marking them as works of rare quality that can stand alongside the best American painting of the period.
In California, Denny’s painting again changed radically. In the late 1970s, the acrylic ‘Moonshine’ drawings had incorporated scratch marks, leading eventually to a series of large monochrome paintings where a concentrated cluster of scratching rests, with shockingly disruptive impact, on a thin horizontal: a datum line, never a ‘horizon’. Though they disturb expectation, these are among Denny’s most beautiful works. Their acrylic surfaces are delicate and subtly modulated, constructed from up to 30 layers of pigment applied until it is intensely rich, absorbing the eye and the attention. Few painters can fill a near-monochrome canvas with so much import. The central image may be a small tight parcel of coloured paper, like a spell or a ‘secret’, or an urgent concentration of colour posed on the canvas as an attention-demanding event. Most recently these centres - of meaning, activity and reciprocity between painting and viewer – have become three-dimensional. If their meanings are largely irretrievable they are none the less dramatic and disquieting, thrusting their presence forward.
Since the early 1960s colour and form have been inseparable in Denny’s work; they have remained controlled, resolved and resolutely abstract. Yet they are redolent of human experience and of light and space; their titles contain innumerable – if incidental - references to popular culture. Denny’s comment on Charles Biederman is true also of himself: he is one of the ‘most remarkable, and sustainedly radical artists of our time’.
He is now represented by Delaye Saltoun.
Public Collections
National Gallery of Australia, Sydney
Daimler Chrysler Collection, Berlin
Verraneman Foundation
Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran
Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon
Tate Gallery, London
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Arts Council of England
The British Council
Contemporary Art Society
Government Art Collection
Department of the Environment
Granada Art Collection
Peter Stuyvesant Collection
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Ferens Art Gallery, Hull
Arnolfini Collections Trust, Bristol
University of Liverpool
Norwich City Art Gallery
Sheffield City Art Gallery
Dundee Art Gallery & Museum
National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
City Art Gallery, Leeds
Ulster Museum Belfast
Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Royal Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh
Council for National Academic Awards
Southampton City Art Gallery
Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford
The Pier Art Centre, Scotland
University of Warwick Arts Centre
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Schroder Bank, New York
Chase Manhattan Bank, New York
Phillips Collection, Washington DC
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Security Pacific Nat. Bank, LA
First Bank of Chicago
Chicago Art Institute
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
Alexandria Museum, Louisiana
University of Virginia
University of Syracuse
University of Northern Iowa
Yale Centre for British Art
Minnesota State University
National Gallery of Australia

2012 Galerie Ziegler SA, Zürich, "von Arp bis Tinguely"
2005 Elements of Abstraction: Space, Line & Interval in British Art, Southampton City Art Gallery
2004 Hirschl Contemporary Art, London (solo)
2002 Hirschl Contemporary Art, London (solo)
2001 Hirschl Contemporary Art, London (solo)
2000 Galerie Renée Ziegler, Zürich (solo)
1995 - 1996 Out of Order. Independent Art Space, London
1995 - 1996 Really Out of Order. Hansard Gallery, Southampton
1993 - 1994 The Sixties Art Scene in London, Barbican Art Centre, London
1992 The New Patrons, Twentieth Century Art from Corporate Collections, Christie’s London
1992 Ready Steady Go, Painting from the Sixties, from the Arts Council Collection, The South Bank Centre, London
1992 Three Artists Three Decades, Robyn Denny, John Hoyland, Gwyther Irwin, Redfer, London
1992 Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London (solo)
1991 The Presence of Painting, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; touring to Hatton Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne
1991 Not Pop, What the others were doing. Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
1988 Painting at the Royal College of Art, Royal College of Art Gallery, London
1988 Corsham – A Celebration, Michael Parkin Gallery, London
1988 The Presence of Painting, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; touring to Hatton Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne
1985 Twenty Five Years, Annely Juda, London
1985 Fine Arts Gallery, U.C. Irvine, California (solo)
1984 Home and Abroad, Arts Council Exhibition
1984 The Serpentine Gallery, London
1984 Art Within Reach, Icon Gallery, Brimingham
1983 The Granada Collection, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
1983 The London Suite (Prints), Icon Art Gallery, Birmingham
1982 Drawing - New Directions, Summit Art Gallery, Summit, USA
1982 Bernard Jacobson Gallery, Los Angeles (solo)
1981 Jacobson/Hochman Gallery, New York (solo)
1981 Salty Le Gallais Gallery, Jersey, Channel Islands
1981 Group IV, Waddington Galleries, London
1981 Recent Drawing, Jacobson Hochman Gallery, New York
1980 Gallery Artists, Bernard Jacobson Ltd., London
1980 Kelpra Studio – The Rose and Chris Prater Exhibition, Tate Gallery London
1980 Aronson Gallery, Atlanta (solo)
1979 Bernard Jacobson Ltd, London (solo)
1979 Bernard Jacobson Ltd, New York (solo)
1979 The Museum of Drawers, Kunstmuseum, Bern
1979 The Deck of Cards, J.P.L. Fine Arts, London
1979 20 C. British Art, Middlesborough Art Gallery
1978 Festival Gallery, Bath (solo)
1977 Waddington and Tooth Galleries, London (solo)
1977 Annual Show, Hayward Gallery, London
1977 Jubilee Exhibition, Royal Academy, London
1976 For John Constable, Tate Gallery, London
1976 Peintres et Sculpteurs Britanniques, Centre Culturel de la Ville de Toulouse
1976 Galleria Morone, Milan (solo)
1975 Galleria La Polena, Genova (solo)
1975 Jacques Damase Gallery, Brussels (solo)
1975 Neue Galerie, Linz (solo)
1975 Galerie Modulo, Porto (solo)
1975 Peinture Anglaise Contemporaine, Musée de Grenoble
1975 La Pitture Inglese Oggi, Ciak Gallery, Rome
1974 Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Cabinet des Estampes, Geneva
1974 Galerie Schottinring, Vienna
1974 Galerie Jacomo-Sontiveri, Paris (solo)
1974 Marlborough Gallery, Rome (solo)
1974 Galleria del Cavillino, Venice (solo)
1974 Galleria L’Approdo, Turin (solo)
1974 Galleria Rondanini, Rome (solo)
1974 Galerie Wentzel, Hamburg (solo)
1974 Galerie Wellman, Dusseldorf (solo)
1974 Santiveri Gallery, Paris (solo)
1973 Tate Gallery, London (retrospective exhibition), touring to Wurttengergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, and Stadtisches Museum, Leverkusen, Germany
1973 Studio la Citta, Verona (solo)
1973 Galerie T, Amsterdam (solo)
1972 Galerie Ziegler SA, Genève (solo)
1972 Alecto International, Studio La Citta, Verona
1972 Ziegler Edition & Grafik, Zürich (solo)
1970 - 1972 Large Paintings, Arts Council Touring Exhibition
1971 Galerie Mikro, Berlin
1971 Galerie Muller, Cologne
1971 Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol
1970 Galerie Muller, Stuttgart & Cologne
1970 Kasmin Gallery, London (solo)
1970 Robert Elkon Gallery, New York (solo)
1970 Arts Council Touring Exhibition
1970 Kelpra Prints, Hayward Gallery, London
1970 Contemporary British Art, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
1970 British Painting and Sculpture 1960-70, National Gallery, Washington DC
1969 Exhibition of Alecto Colour Boxes, Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer, New York
1969 Contemporary British Paintings, South African Tour
1969 Kasmin Artists, Arts Council Gallery, Belfast
1969 New Editions, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford
1969 12 Britische Artisten, Kunstlerhaus Galerie, Vienna
1969 Contemporary British Painting, Art Centre, Delaward
1969 Kasmin Gallery, London (solo)
1969 Waddington Gallery, London (solo)
1969 Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (solo)
1968 Forum Stadtpart, Graz (solo)
1968 Galerie Renée Ziegler, Zürich (solo)
1968 Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh International, Pittsburgh
1968 A Collector’s Exhibition, Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Canada
1968 Purchases, The Contemporary Art Society
1968 Works on Paper, Waddington Gallery, London
1968 Ceri Richards/Robyn Denny, Arnolfini Art Centre, Bristol
1968 Arte Moltiplicate, Galleria Milano
1968 Suites, Recent Prints, Jewish Museum, New York
1968 Junge Generation, Grossbritannien, Akademie er Kunste, Berlin
1968 Prospect 68, Dusseldorf
1968 Mostra Mercato d’art Contemporanea, Palazzo Strozzi Florence
1968 Ornamentale Tendenzen, Berlin
1968 Ornamentale Tendenzen, Leverkusen
1968 Ornamentale Tendenzen, Schloss Wolfsburg
1968 Peintres Europeens d’Aujourd’hui, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris and USA tour
1968 Art Vivant, Foundation Maeght, Paris
1967 - 1968 John Moores Liverpool Exhibition VI, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
1967 Jeunes Peintres Anglais, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
1967 Four Young English Painters, Kunsthalle, Mannheim
1967 Jeunes Peintres Anglais, Galerie Alice Pauli, Lausanne
1967 Jeunes Peintres Anglais, Galerie Feigel, Basel
1967 Vormen van de Kleur, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
1967 Recent British Painting, Stuyvesant Foundation, Tate Gallery
1967 Exposition Internationale de Gravures, Vancouver
1967 Forem der Frabe, Kunstverein, Stuttgart; touring to Kunsthalle, Berne
1967 Four British Painters, Two British Potters, Museum Boymans – van Beuningen, Rotterdam
1967 7th Exposition Internationale, Modern Galeria Llubljana
1967 Kasmin Gallery, London (solo)
1967 Robert Elkon Gallery, New York (solo)
1966 Robert Elkon Gallery, New York (solo)
1966 Caro/Cohen/Denny/Smith, Kasmin Gallery, London
1966 XXXIII Biennale, Venice
1966 5 Junge Englander, Kunsthalle, Mannheim, Biennale Venedig
1966 International Print Biennale, Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art
1966 Robyn Denny/ John Ernest, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol
1965 - 1966 John Moores Liverpool Exhibition V, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
1965 New Painting 1961-65, Arts Council Touring Exhibition
1965 London: the New Scene, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, touring to Canada
1965 Paris Biennale, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
1965 Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol
1965 Focus on Drawing, Art Gallery of Toronto
1965 Art Vivant, Foundation Maeght, Paris
1964 Contemporary British Painting and Sculpture, Albright-Know Gallery, Buffalo
1964 Britische Malerei der Gernerwart, Kunsthalle Dusseldorf
1964 John Moores Liverpool Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery
1964 Documenta III, Kassel
1964 La Peau de l’Ours Kunsthalle, Basel
1964 Young British Painters, 1955-1960, Art Gallery of New South Wales
1964 Kasmin Gallery, London (solo)
1963 Galerie Muller, Stuttgart (solo)
1963 Towards Art, Arts Council, Touring Exhibition
1963 7 Junge Englische Malerei, Kunsthalle, Basle
1963 Galerie Huber, Zurich
1963 Ten Years, Gallery One, London
1963 H ‘63’ Hamilton Galleries, London
1963 7th International Biennale, Tokyo
1963 British Painting in the 60’s, Tate Gallery, London
1963 Absolute Farbe, Avant Garde 63, Museum Trier
1962 - 1963 Situation, Arts Council Touring Exhibition, to Cambridge, Aberdeen, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bradford, Kettering and Liverpool
1962 Denny/Greninger/Olsen, Galerie Handschin, Basel
1962 Nine Painters from England, Galleria Trastevere, Rome
1962 Towards Art, Royal College of Art, London
1962 Galleria Scacchi Gracco (solo)
1961 Molton Gallery, London (solo)
1961 AIA – Directions/Connections, London
1961 Art of Assemblage, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1961 New London Situation, New London Gallery
1961 Neue Marlerie in England, Stadtisches Museum, Leverkusen
1961 Six Young Painters, Arts Council Tour
1960 - 1961 Danad Design, Portal Gallery, London
1960 Situation, RBA Galleries, London
1959 - 1960 John Moores Liverpool Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
1959 London Group, RBA Galleries, London
1959 British Paintings and Prints from Paris Biennale, AIA Gallery, London
1959 Première Biennale, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
1959 Premio Lissone, Milan
1959 Place, ICA, London
1958 - 1959 British Painting, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.(touring)
1958 British Abstract Painting, Auckland City Art Gallery; touring to National Gallery of Art, Sydney
1958 British Painting, Neiman Marcus, Dallas
1958 Gallery One, London (solo)
1958 Gimpel Fils, London (solo)
1958 London Group, RBA Galleries, London
1958 A1A25, RBA Galleries, London
1958 Summer Exhibition, Redfern Gallery, London
1958 Robyn Denny and Charles Carey, Gallery One, London
1958 American Guggenheim Awards, Manchester City Art Gallery,;Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; Brighton Art Gallery
1958 Contemporary Art Acquisitions, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
1957 Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Liege
1957 The British School at Rome, Imperial Institute, London
1957 New Trends in British Art, New York Art Foundation, Rome
1957 Young Contemporaries, RBA Galleries, London
1957 Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract, Redfern Gallery, London
1957 Critics Choice, (Neville Wallis) Arthur Tooth & Sons, London
1957 Dimensions, O’Hana Gallery, London
1957 Summer Exhibition, Gimpel Fils, London
1956 Young Contemporaries, RBA Galleries, London
1954 Young Contemporaries, RBA Galleries, London
1953 Young Contemporaries, RBA Galleries, London

1973 Exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 1973.
1966 David THOMPSON, Five Young British Artists, XXXIII Venice Biennale
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