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The Presence of Painting: Aspects of British Abstraction 1957 - 1988

Group show at Mappin Art Gallery, Weston Park. 1988 - 1989
Date: 26 November, 1988 until 15 January, 1989
Curator: Michael Tooby
Organiser: Hayward and Regional Exhibitions, South Bank Centre

Frank Bowling was included in the major touring exhibition, The Presence of Painting: Aspects of British Abstraction 1957 - 1988. The exhibition was curated by Michael Tooby and was shown at Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, 26 November 1988 - 15 January 1989. The exhibition then toured to Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, 28 January - 12 March 1989, and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 15 April - 20 May 1989. The exhibition was a product of Hayward and Regional Exhibitions, South Bank Centre and came with a 64 page catalogue.

The exhibition showcased work by some 43 artists, including figures such as Gillian Ayres, Alan Davie, Sir Terry Frost RA, Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon, Ben Nicholson, Bridget Riley, and Sean Scully. In the catalogue, Joanna Drew, then Director, Hayward and Regional Exhibitions, described the exhibition as “formulated on an ambitious scale to draw together particular strands within a 30 year period of abstract painting in Britain.” (page 2).

The major text in the catalogue was provided by its curator, Michael Tooby. His 7 page “Introduction” began with, “The starting point for this exhibition is 1957. It is from this time that abstract painting in this country is said to have reacted against and been influenced by American Abstract Expressionism, which was first shown in Britain in the late 1950s. The diversity of individual responses evident in this exhibition denies such a simple reading. This exhibition explores the nature of ‘abstraction’ in both current and a range of older painting. By isolating particular, painterly spheres ogf interest, such as the nature of the surface, the role of associative titles and attitudes to working processes, the exhibition provides neither a chronology nor an inclusive, systematic reading of the development of British abstract painting. Instead the selection rests on artists who have shared concerns and affinities. The exhibition is structured to provide a close focus on small clear groups of work, and also to allow an understanding of the development and re-alignment of an older generation of painters  whose work has shifted stylistically throughout their careers.

The essay which follows provides an outline of the circumstances surrounding the making and exhibition of certain works within The Presence of Painting, and in so doing makes available references to the considerable literature on abstract art,” (page 3). The span of practitioners in the exhibition was, in age range, particularly broad. The youngest artist represented in the exhibition was Eleanor Wood, born in 1955 in London, and the oldest artist was Ben Nicholson, born, in 1894 in Denham, Buckinghamshire, any dying in 1982, some years before the exhibition was conceived and curated.

Related items

click to show details of The Presence of Painting: Aspects of British Abstraction 1957 - 1988

»  The Presence of Painting: Aspects of British Abstraction 1957 - 1988

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1988

click to show details of The Presence of Painting press release

»  The Presence of Painting press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1989

People in this exhibition + view all 43

»  Bob Law

Born, 1934 in Middlesex. Died, 2004

»  Edwina Leapman

Born, 1934

»  Kenneth Martin OBE

Born, 1905 in Sheffield. Died, 1984

»  John McLean

Born, 1939 in Liverpool

»  John Mitchell

Born, 1942 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Exhibition venues

»  Mappin Art Gallery, Weston Park

Sheffield, United Kingdom