Irresistible Climb (Ladder Series)
Over a sixty-year career, Basil Beattie has remained part of a milieu of British artists whose works continue the legacy of Abstract Expressionism. Beattie was a pioneer of a new approach to painting in post-war Britain, having been significantly influenced by The New American Painting show at the Tate in 1959, in particular the works of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. These formative elements would persuade and mould the parameters of Beattie’s work in the 1960s and early ’70s, but it was not long before he abandoned a purely formal approach and developed his own type of abstract painting, which has served to distinguish himself from many other artists working at the time. Beattie has extended the legacy of Abstract Expressionism in post-war Britain, orchestrating formal visual dynamics in an expansive scale. He has subsequently gained the epithet of a ‘painter’s painter’ and has over a sixty-year career influenced generations, most notably the Young British Artists (YBAs) through teaching at Goldsmiths College during the 1980s and 1990s. When Beattie talks about his role as a painter, he refers to himself as a 'sort of symbolist', one who alludes to but avoids making direct reference to human form in order to express subjective experiences. Within the paintings in the exhibition stacks of blocks topple and slant, wall-like surfaces find odd angles, stairways and ladders that seem to lead nowhere suggest a new order of architecture. These emotive and gestural forms are not created by Beattie for their illustrative or figurative associations, rather these objects reflect a more psychological state where the forms depicted become dematerialized and thus imbued with added symbolic significance. However, these architectural and archetypal forms do serve to define the interior of the paintings, forming cells of space, depth, light and air. Beattie considers his successful works to be those which have an undeniable potency, hover in space and where the paint takes on a molten quality as if it has almost reached melting point. These descriptions serve to highlight a certain elusiveness which Beattie considers to be essential to the making of the paintings. The act of making becomes a journey of thinking and responding, looking and reacting with Beattie being alive and alert to the shifts in not only form but more importantly feeling. Although the pictorial elements hold significant and undeniable psychological implications, Beattie's paintings gain further meaning through masterful physicality and the way in which he works and manipulates the painted surface. The paint, applied quickly and fearlessly, is sometimes removed with the hand. The drawn marks within the work sit at the threshold of identification, flirting with recognition but never completely revealing themselves. Resolutely working on one painting at a time, in the studio Beattie creates moments of clarity for himself by looking inwards rather than to the outside world for inspiration. Occupying both mental and physical space, Beattie’s works are about the dynamics of human experience – our emotions, memories and fleeting moments.