Rebecca Salter

H31, 1993

mixed media on canvas

214 × 122 cm


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Artwork
Description

Though she is primarily known for her use of traditional Japanese practices and materials, Rebecca Salter’s H31 is a truly British work of art. Having spent every autumn since 1988 in the Lake District of North West England, Salter’s engagement with the landscapes made famous by British Romantics like Turner, Coleridge, and Wordsworth have characterised the modus operandi of a number of her works.

She begins by creating a painting which she then cuts up and reassembles onto a backing sheet. She has no particular image in mind, and, in her reassemblage, she mirrors the “chance operations” central to process of the Beat poets, maintaining a delicate equilibrium between objectivity and subjectivity.

The German Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schlegel theorises that the function of each snippet of memory rests in its ability to be simultaneously from both the past and the future. For him, as for Salter, the creation of a new entity from the pieces of another is an archetypal Romantic endeavor, for it aims to resolve the fragmentary nature of experience. Indeed, though she never begins with an end image in mind, the paintings she creates represent entire worlds within which the viewer will lose themselves.

About
the artist

Rebecca Salter (British, b.1955) was elected Royal Academician in 2014 and Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools in 2017. She lives and works in London.

In the 1970s, after graduating from the Bristol Polytechnic as a ceramicist, Salter moved to Japan to study at the Kyoto City University of the Arts. There, far from home, Salter struggled to integrate herself with the rest of the student and artist community: she had to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers first. She spent six years in the country, putting herself, her practice and Western history of art into question before deciding it was time to go back home to the United Kingdom.

The result of such a journey of (re)discovery is her incredibly beautiful and distinctive abstract work on canvas and paper. Found at the intersection between Western and Japanese traditions, her practice seeks to bridge a gap between two fundamentally different conceptions of art. In her paintings and drawings, Salter applies notions of mark-making that, traditionally, pertain to calligraphy; the distinction between front and back of the canvas disappears, as the artist focuses on creating an object existing in space, rather than a painted surface; she revisits the great Romantic tradition of landscape and weather painting, through the use of the line, rather than colour.

Salter’s works are heavily detailed minimal abstractions, particular emphasis is given to the interplay between marked and unmarked space on the canvas. The presence of white space is a critical trait of Salter’s work and reveals the relationship the artist has with the concerns of the Hasegawa School of painting. Salter often cites Hasegawa’s Pine Trees as a highly important work for her own practice. The layering of neutral tones often suffuses the work with an ethereal quality, the muted colours offering a tranquil, yet spellbinding, response to nature. Frequently, the use of vertical and horizontal planes structures the work: one is invited to draw from the abstractions a sense of landscape and depth.

Her works can be viewed as obsessive, meditative, delicate, or forceful but they are all, ultimately, bewitching.

Salter has also had a number of architectural commissions, which include both Guy’s Hospital and St George’s Hospital. She has been an artist in residence at Lofoten in Norway and Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut. In 2011, Salter had a major retrospective at the Yale Center for British Art: into the light of things 1981-2010.


Salter’s works are heavily detailed minimal abstractions, particular emphasis is given to the interplay between marked and unmarked space on the canvas. The layering of neutral tones often suffuses the work with an ethereal quality, the muted colours offering a tranquil, yet spellbinding, response to nature.


Rebecca Salter
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition

October 1st, 2018 until
November 9th, 2018
Curated by ARTUNER