Exhibition at von Bartha Collection curated by Andrew Bick
Anthony Hill, [b.1930] Peter Lowe, [b. 1938], Gillian Wise [b.1936] and Jeffrey Steele [b.1931] are all pioneers in British Art with respect to Constructivism, Systems or both. Hill, along with Victor Pasmore and Kenneth and Mary Martin formed the nucleus of a dynamic British response to International Constructivist ideas in the 1950’s, in part also influenced by the writings and art of the American Charles Biederman, [1906-2004] who had met Mondrian while in Europe and subsequently corresponded with some of the British construction artists. Wise had separately discovered Biederman’s ideas as a student, corresponded with him and with his encouragement, contacted Anthony Hill, with whom she then formed a dynamic collaborative partnership. In a separate development Peter Lowe became a student of Kenneth and Mary Martin at Goldsmith’s College of Art. Later, along with Jeffrey Steele, who he met on a summer arts workshop in Barry, South Wales, Lowe took a key role in the formation of the Systems group, which first exhibited at Amos Andersohn Museum, Helsinki in 1969. Gillian Wise had by then become an active member of Systems, which went on to organise three major public gallery exhibitions in the UK. Construction and Systems form the first and second generations of the concrete/constructive tradition in the UK. The European connection is important to all these artists, but for the Systems group Zurich Art Concret, principally the mathematically organized work of Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse [in preference to the more obviously intuitive work of Camille Graeser and Fritz Glarner] has an enduring importance.
Both the Construction and Systems groups could best be described as loose and fluid associations, based on argument as much as agreement, in a continual dynamic state of flux with each other and with respect to their position as modernists within the art world. This exhibition at Von Bartha is a celebration of that ongoing exchange and conversation, based on ideas initially developed by Gillian Wise with support from art historian Alan Fowler and then responded to by the artists, who have each selected their own work for inclusion.
The exhibition at Von Bartha Collection this April shows an art that is about facture, and material syntax, about physical layers and combinations of discrete materials, measured and built out from the wall plane. In a sense some of these works have an affinity with collage as much as painting and drawing, they are about the negotiation of visual systems that could also suggest optical space, thus having a planar complexity that is very distinct from American Minimalism. Their position is thus a complex one in terms of the hegemony of modernist development, which makes it fertile ground for younger artists seeking other approaches, offering them viewpoints from which to reconsider the modernist legacy. (2)
Andrew Bick, February 2011
(1)For a detailed account of these artists see: Constructed Art in England by Alastair Grieve. Yale University Press 2005
(2) See Construction & its Shadow, Leeds Art Gallery until 5 June 2011, and Henry Moore Institute website:
Henry Moore Institute
Artists associated with the first phase of Systems include: Michael Kidner, Malcolm Hughes, Peter Lowe, David Saunders, Jean Spencer, Peter Sedgeley, Jeffrey Steele, Michael Tyzack and Gillian Wise. Subsequent phases included Colin Jones, Norman Dilworth, Keith Richardson Jones and John Law. Peter LOWE, portfolio "Rationale Konzepte, 7 englische Künstler, Edition Hoffmann.
Jeffrey STEELE, oil on canvas one of three oil on canvas 1991
Anthony HILL, portfolio "Rationale Konzepte, 7 englische Künstler", Edition Hoffmann 1/4