Friday, 30 May 2014

Robyn Denny, 1930 - 2014

Robyn Denny, Baby is Three, 1960
Robyn Denny died on 20 May 2014.
Robyn Denny was a significant figure in the development of post-war British abstract painting. In David Mellor’s judgement, “For eight years between 1961 and 1969, Robyn Denny painted what are arguably some of the most accomplished abstract paintings made in Britain in the twentieth century.” He is best known for his geometric abstractions of the 1960s and 70s. In 1973 he was the youngest artist to be given a retrospective at the Tate. His dedication to abstraction, however, meant that he became increasingly unfashionable and, together with contemporaries such as Richard Smith, all but disappeared from public view. (In an interview, entitled ‘The Invisible Man’, Richard Smith recalled: "Robyn Denny keeps saying, 'Our time will come, Dick. Our time will come.' And he's been saying this for years and years.")
As a student in the 1950s (St Martin’s, 1951-4, RCA, 1954-7), Denny belonged to the first generation to be influenced by the American Abstract Expressionists, principally through exhibitions at the Tate (1956 and 59), and shows by Pollock (1958) and Rothko (1961) at the Whitechapel.
Denny’s early work was characterised by gestural painting and typographical abstraction. The apotheosis of the latter was a mural commissioned for Austin Reed (‘great, big, wide, biggest’) in 1959.
In 1960 Denny was a key player in the organisation of ‘Situation’, an exhibition which responded directly to the scale and innovation of the American painters. The criteria for inclusion in ‘Situation’ were that paintings should be ‘abstract (that is, without explicit reference to events outside the painting) … and not less than 30 square feet.’ All accounts report that the exhibition was poorly attended, but the label recurred in ‘New London Situation’ at the Marlborough Gallery in 1961 and in an Arts Council exhibition, ‘Situation: an exhibition of recent British abstract art’ in 1962.
The paintings of the 60s were typically, large-scale paintings featuring geometrical forms, suggestive of doorways, with flat planes of colour in precisely adjusted, usually, muted colours. Later work changed the emphasis from vertical to horizontal and included areas of brilliant colour. In 1981 Denny moved to Los Angeles and made paintings which were typically monochromes out of which outcrops of scratched, coloured marks would emerge.
Read obituaries by Jeff Amos and in The Telegraph.
Robyn Denny, Home from Home, 1959
Robyn Denny, Austin Reed mural, 1959
Robyn Denny, Track 4, 1961
Robyn Denny, Out-Line, 1962
Robyn Denny,Life Line, 1963
Robyn Denny, Glass 2 From There, 1971
Robyn Denny, Head On 2, 1975
Robyn Denny, Windward Steam and Angel Dust, 1984 -87
Appendix: some images associated with Denny
Gordon House, catalogue cover design for 'Situation', 1962
Sylvia Sleigh, Portrait of the Situation Group, 1961. L to R, back row: Henry Mundy, Gwyther Irwin, William Turnbull, Peter Coviello; centre row: Gillian Ayres, John Plumb, Peter Stroud, Robyn Denny, Roger Coleman, Bernard Cohen; front row: Gordon House, Lawrence Alloway
Howard Hodgkin, Mr & Mrs Robyn Denny, 1960

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