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1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1963
Published by: Commonwealth Institute
Year published: 1963

image of 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Relatively modest but hugely important catalogue for an innovative exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute, London. The exhibition was the 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art, 19 September - 13 October 1963. The exhibition featured a number of artists from Commonwealth countries, many of whom had settled in Britain over the course of the preceding decade or so. For example, Aubrey Williams had been resident in England since 1954, Ashu Roy had lived in London since 1951, Viren Sahai had lived in London since 1954, Kamil Khan had lived in London since 1957, and Ahmed Parvez had lived in London since 1955. There were contributions from artists such as John Drawbridge, from New Zealand, James Boswell, also from New Zealand, and Bill Featherston, from Canada. The exhibition clearly demonstrated the extent to which abstract art had been  embraced, championed and pioneered by artists from all over the world, including countries of the Commonwealth. The exhibition was supplemented by contributions from “well and lesser-known artists from the United Kingdom” including Frank Avray Wilson, Peter Lanyon, Denis Bowen and Victor Pasmore.

The slim catalogue had the following text, on its back cover: “The aims of the Commonwealth Biennale are to bring to public attention the work of Commonwealth abstract artists living and working in the United Kingdom, to define the part played by them in the development of painting and sculpture in this country, and to draw to the attention of various Commonwealth countries the achievement of their nationals.

The grouping of the Exhibition is not intended to convey a specific trend in abstract art, but is rather a cross section of significant development in avant-garde work in the United Kingdom.

The Commonwealth Biennale will bring these aims into effect by means of exhibitions at two yearly intervals organised by the artists themselves and with the co-operation of the Commonwealth Institute, and by means of touring exhibitions of selected work in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.”

In his Foreword/Introduction, Charles Spencer wrote, “This exhibition, it will immediately be seen, is restricted to abstract painting. This in itself imposes and presents certain significant suggestions. On one level it establishes the fact that artists from 10 different countries, from widely different cultural backgrounds, and, needless to say, of different religious and racial origins, share a common technical and aesthetic language. Whatever has provoked them to express themselves in visual terms, and whatever philosophical or spiritual comment they wish to make, they have chosen the rather more difficult and complex method of non-figuration.”

Catalogue contents:

Foreword/Introduction, Charles Spencer

Thumbnail images, list of works, and brief biographical outlines of the exhibition’s main artists (sixteen)

Supplementary list of  “a selection of well and lesser-known artists from the United Kingdom.”

In the catalogue, it was noted that Frank Avray Wilson had “donated a sum of money to be awarded as a prize to one of the artists participating.” Though not noted in the catalogue, the prize was awarded to Aubrey Williams.

Related people + view all 29

»  Frank Avray Wilson

Born, 1914 in Mauritius. Died, 2009

»  James Boswell

Born, 1906 in Westport, New Zealand

»  Denis Bowen

Born, 1921 in Kimberley, South Africa. Died, 2006

»  Leslie Candappa

Born, 1927 in Columbo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

»  Stapleton

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom