Piero Manzoni, Achrome 1958. Tate. © DACS, 2023.

Painting with White

Mary Martin, Spiral Movement  1951

Martin said that abstract painting had led to a desire to use three-dimensional materials. This work follows a strict mathematical rule, the Golden Section. It dictates the size of different elements, with the aim of creating the perfect composition. Writing about this work, Martin explained, 'I took a simple element (in this case a parallelepiped – a solid figure whose faces are six parallelograms) and subjected it to a system of changes, not knowing what would happen to it…. I think all my work has been based on this kind of curiosity.'

Gallery label, August 2020

artworks in Painting with White

Jan Schoonhoven, R69-26  1969

Schoonhoven experimented with several different styles of art. In 1960, he began making white reliefs using geometric shapes. This work is built out of cardboard on a wooden base with paper glued over it. 'R69-26' is an identification number, rather than a title. R indicates that it is a relief, 69 refers to the year it was made. 26 signifies that it was his twenty-sixth relief made in 1969. Schoonhoven had a job in the Dutch civil service, making art at the evening and weekend.

Gallery label, August 2020

artworks in Painting with White

Li Yuan-chia, Monochrome White Painting  1963

Li Yuan-Chia arrived in London in the early 1960s. Considered one of the founding fathers of abstract art in Taiwan, his work combined aspects of Western and Eastern thought. He used the bare language and spatial freedom of abstraction to convey existential conditions, focusing on the situation of the individual in the universe. The surface of Monochrome White Painting includes Li Yuan-Chia’s most personal visual mark: the dot or circular form, which for him symbolised the beginning and end of all things.

Gallery label, October 2016

artworks in Painting with White

Michael Buthe, White Painting  1969

It might look like the artist has randomly slashed this canvas. In fact, Buthe carefully composed it. He wanted to create a powerful relationship between the grid of the stretcher and the loose fabric. He used various processes to create this effect. This includes stitching lengths of cloth together and folding, tying, and wrapping sections around and underneath the stretcher bars. This draws attention to the space in front, inside and behind the stretcher. Buthe also painted the wooden stretcher bars white to match the fabric. This helps them be seen as parts of the same idea.

Gallery label, August 2020

artworks in Painting with White

Jack Whitten, Epsilon Group II  1977

Whitten wanted to create new type of abstract art. Many abstract artists focused on mark making. Whitten explored the use of a single action to fill the canvas. To do this, he removed colour from his work: ‘Red, yellow, blue etc. with their heavy historical and psychological references had become unwanted baggage. I trusted only black and white.’ To avoid relying on paint brush marks, Whitten created new techniques and tools. The horizontal lines in this work were made with a large, specially designed Afro comb, pulled once across the canvas.

Gallery label, August 2020

artworks in Painting with White

Bram Bogart, White plane white  1974

Bogart focuses on the physical qualities of paint in his work. Here, he has applied a thick layer of paint to the surface and pulled it to the edges. He became interested in the borders of his paintings. Bogart commented that, ‘I started to see how important the borders of a painting were … extending the material over the borders of the painting. It gave me a certain looseness or broad outline.’ He made this work after moving to a bigger studio. Keeping one of the largest rooms empty, he described how ‘the influence of this emptiness was soon noticeable in my work’

Gallery label, August 2020

artworks in Painting with White

Piero Manzoni, Achrome  1958

Manzoni aimed to strip any type of storytelling from painting. For him, this meant removing colour from his works. In 1957, he began to produce painting-like objects he called 'Achromes.' He made them by soaking his canvases in kaolin, a soft clay used to make porcelain. The kaolin removed any colour, creating ‘nothingness’. The weight of the material caused it to sag, creating folds across the surface of the canvas. He described them as 'a white surface which is neither a polar landscape, nor an evocative or beautiful subject, nor even a sensation, a symbol or anything else: but a white surface which is nothing other than a colourless surface, or even a surface which quite simply ‘is’.’

Gallery label, August 2020

artworks in Painting with White

Robert Ryman, Ledger  1982

Ryman made this painting using pigmented shellac laid over plastic and glass. It is one of about nine paintings from the same period. The strips of aluminium, which are part of the work, allow it to be attached it to the wall. Ryman pays great attention to the paintbrush marks. He uses white because he considers it less ‘emotionally charged’ than other colours. His works are about surface, texture, grain and light rather than composition.

Gallery label, August 2020

artworks in Painting with White

Art in this room

T00586: Spiral Movement
Mary Martin Spiral Movement 1951
T01499: R69-26
Jan Schoonhoven R69-26 1969
T11871: Monochrome White Painting
Li Yuan-chia Monochrome White Painting 1963
T14782: White Painting
Michael Buthe White Painting 1969
T13803: Epsilon Group II
Jack Whitten Epsilon Group II 1977
T14202: White plane white
Bram Bogart White plane white 1974
T01871: Achrome
Piero Manzoni Achrome 1958
T03550: Ledger
Robert Ryman Ledger 1982