Basil Beattie RA receives major solo exhibition at Huxley-Parlour Gallery

Basil Beattie, ‘Pathfinder’, 1989, oil and wax on canvas © the artist. Courtesy Huxley-Parlour Gallery

The acclaimed British artist Basil Beattie is undoubtedly one of the most significant and singular abstract artists to emerge in post-war Britain and yet he is not as well known to the general public as some. A new exhibition at Huxley-Parlour Gallery, entitled Pathfinder (in conjunction with a co-current exhibition at Hales Gallery), provides us with an opportunity to experience key works that testify to Beattie’s skill as a mark-maker, and to his painterly ambition and expressive energy.

Beattie was born in 1935 and studied at West Hartlepool College of Art from 1950–1955 before time at the Royal Academy Schools from 1957–1961. Over a sixty-year career, Beattie has remained part of a milieu of British artists whose works continue the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, bringing the grandeur and scale of the New York School to London. While he was a pioneer of this new approach to painting on this side of the pond throughout the 1960s and 1970s, 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.

Dating from 1989 through to 2004, the works in Huxley-Parlour Gallery’s current exhibition chart the development of Beattie’s work throughout the 1990s. A defining era for the artist, this decade saw Beattie abandon his purely formal approach, and begin developing a new form of allusive abstraction, based on pictorial symbolism, distinguishing himself from his contemporaries. This decade saw Beattie develop themes that have come to define his artistic output: of journeying through space, the passing of time and progress.

Basil Beattie, ‘Mark This Place’, 1998, oil and wax on cotton duck © the artist. Courtesy Huxley-Parlour Gallery

Ladders, tunnels, bridges and doorways thread themselves through Beattie’s later oeuvre. His interest in these signs lies with their multiplicity of meaning: that the words refer not only to architectural structures, but can also be used metaphorically to describe psychological and emotional states of being. As writer and curator Paul Moorhouse writes:

Basil Beattie, ‘When First is Last and Last is First’, 1992, oil on canvas © the artist. Courtesy Huxley-Parlour Gallery

Throughout the exhibition, a number of smaller works on paper will be on view, all of which make use of these complex architectural motifs, and are used to inform his larger works on canvas. The exhibition at Huxley Parlour, and the co-current show at Hales Gallery entitled Basile Beattie: Cause & Effect, are both testaments to the importance of the artist; occupying both mental and physical space, Beattie’s works are ultimately about the dynamics of human experience — our emotions, memories and fleeting moments.

Pathfinder is showing at Huxley-Parlour Gallery from 17 January — 15 February 2020

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Freelance journalist covering fine art, photography, film and tech. UK based

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