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Recent paintings from the sixties

Sweet, David (2002) Recent paintings from the sixties. UNSPECIFIED. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The project addressed the contemporary potential of the pictorial vocabulary of the sixties. The paintings deployed the staple devices from sixties geometric formats as used by Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland, rather than the looser structures favoured by Jules Olitski or Helen Frankenthaler. The elements were centred or arranged as grids in a specific relationship to the picture edge. In confronting the anachronism of sixties work appearing as “new” forty years on, two differences between now and then were brought into view. 1) Scale and colour: the size, colour intensities and chromatic differences typical of the original models proved difficult to replicate. The physical dimensions and vividness of sixties’ US painting appear too much of their time to reconstruct. 2) Ideological distinction: Painting in the sixties was caught up in a conflict between modernism and the avant-garde tendencies exemplified by minimalism. Michael Fried articulates this issue clearly. From Sweet's perspective, influenced by his doctoral study of Fried’s work, the similarities of art from that period, became visible. While the paintings remain committed to the defining notion of High Modernism, medium specificity, an element of revisionism accounts for the introduction of tonal relationships which refers to the overlap between Stella and Judd. The research is connected to Sweet's practical interest in modernism, formalism and abstraction. These discourses raise unique challenges in pedagogy, which Sweet addressed in a catalogue essay ‘How to Make an Abstract Painting’ (Beyond the Endgame; Abstract painting in Manchester: 2003, Manchester City Art Gallery). Sweet argued that abstraction is defined by its ‘indifference’ to what it represents. This highlights ethical decisions and becomes a form of thinking about painting.

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