Victor Pasmore: The realism painter turned abstract artist who lifted the veil of confusion

A retrospective celebrating the artist in London showcases his fluid lines, evoking mysteriously beautiful memories and unexpected dimensions.

British abstract artist Victor Pasmore.
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British abstract artist Victor Pasmore.

Victor Pasmore: The realism painter turned abstract artist who lifted the veil of confusion

London: Until the age of 40, British Artist Victor Pasmore, whose later works are currently being exhibited at the Eames Fine Art Gallery in London, was best known for his realist paintings.

However, in 1948, he underwent a drastic transformation to become a leading figure in abstract art. This was hailed as “the most revolutionary moment in post-war British Art” by critic and historian Herbert Read.

With this shift, it became clear that Pasmore was making a lasting name for himself among the great abstract artists of modern art. The changes in his style were striking, as he distilled lines and colours to their essence, capturing their inherent energy before it could dissipate.

All of a sudden, limble lines took centre stage. They were self-sufficient and highly expressive, enriched with blocks of colour that often appeared as chromatic blots emerging from the surface of the paper.

His exceptionally fluid artistic strokes, including those born out of his printmaking endeavours, conveyed dimensions that existed outside of what is expected. They took viewers on a magical and captivating visual journey that transcended conventional notions of beauty to create new and unpredictable worlds.

'We are one family'

Vincent Eames, Director of the Eames Fine Art Gallery, describes the Pasmore exhibition as a look into “an endlessly compelling and hugely significant figure in post-war British art. Pasmore sought to give voice to a new age with a sustained exploration of line, colour, and harmony.”

This suggests that Pasmore, who was influenced during his realism period by the works of William Turner, had gone beyond the search for compelling reasons to accept harmony.

Pasmore embraced lyrical abstraction, but he had no interest in grounding any of his work in nature. In fact, his work did not limit itself to what nature has to offer. It raised the question: Is there an alternate, or perhaps opposite nature to explore?

Pasmore embraced lyrical abstraction, but he had no interest in grounding any of his work in nature. In fact, his work did not limit itself to what nature has to offer.

About 30 years ago, I asked my friend, artist Rafa al-Nasiri, about the reason for his fascination with Pasmore. He said, without hesitation, "We are one family." Looking at Pasmore's work, we can begin to understand what he meant. There is something inviting about the British artist's vision.

Pasmore, who was born in 1908 and died in 1998, was heavily influenced by Paul Cézanne before turning his attention to his own countryman, Turner. These two creative forces pulled him, indirectly, toward abstraction.

While Pasmore learned solid abstraction from Cézanne, he learned fluid abstraction from Turner. He merged the two to create his own style. He also admired, for a long while, the works of British artist Ben Nicholson, whom he had personally met.

He knew, at the time, that he was inheriting the legacy of the forefathers of abstraction without necessarily being influenced by modern abstract artists, namely the Russian Wassily Kandinsky and the Dutch Piet Mondrian.

This is precisely why Pasmore is so important.

A new way of looking

Art critics often refer to Pasmore as "the poet," owing to his tight yet meticulous visual lexicon.

His language is concise, tense, and precise, devoid of any unnecessary chatter. It can catch you off guard, captivating you even if you are unfamiliar with it.

Its softness subtly seduces the eye while avoiding overwhelming viewers with emotion. It is delicate but requires no sympathy. It is a disciplined gentleness that beckons observers to change their view on transient moments that may never recur.

When looking at Pasmore's work, we are prompted to delve into our memories in search of pages that have been erased. Pasmore doesn't reawaken clear memories; that's not his speciality. Instead, the memories he evokes originate from a mysterious place where beauty serves as the common denominator between him and others.

His approach to painting and drawing changed when he relocated to Malta in 1966, where he resided until his passing. The influence of architecture in his work decreased, allowing his lines to become lighter, more agile, and more assured of their own strength.

The works of British abstract artist Victor Pasmore.

This catapulted Pasmore's popularity. He became a highly sought-after artist, not only during his lifetime but also posthumously, as major museums from around the world sought to exhibit his works. Even smaller galleries became interested in curating exhibitions dedicated to his printmaking.

Be it etching, silkscreen, or lithography, Pasmore made significant contributions, which inevitably impacted other print artists, who perceived him as a sort of visionary mentor from the future.

More importantly, he infused abstract art with a weightlessness that liberated it from the heavy shackles of confusion. He lifted the veil that had once shrouded the art movement in ambiguity and misunderstanding.

With Pasmore's art, questions about 'meaning' fade away, replaced simply by an enduring sense of joy that lingers for as long as it is welcome.

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