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UK vs USA: Post-War to Present

Until 7 April 2023

Alon Zakaim Fine Art is delighted to present 'UK vs USA: Post-War to Present' – an exhibition that explores the British and American preoccupations with and approaches to abstraction in the decades following the culmination of World War II. Displayed in a predominantly stylistic fashion, the exhibition pairs artworks together for the first time to establish unheard dialogues and fresh perspectives.

Post-War American art is often defined merely as a time period spanning 1945-1970, rather than by the set of styles and ideas that encompassed the movement, as with British art. Beyond this generalisation, Post-War American art constituted radically innovative developments that paved the way for the British and, at times, opposed their views to move in separate directions.

Against the backdrop of British Pre-War figurative art by L. S. Lowry and David Bomberg, 'UK vs USA: Post-War to Present' opens with two stunning examples of Post-War American art by William Gropper and Hans Hofmann. Building on the geometrical fundaments of Cubism, as visible in Bomberg’s 'Figure Composition (Stable Interior Series)', Gropper’s use of line and sinuous planes in his 'Rhythm in Blues' illustrates fluid movement, providing a means to elicit his Post-War feeling of freedom. The sharp juxtaposition of vibrant and overshadowing hues, however, maintains a wary sense of tension and uncertainty about what could ensue in the resulting years.

Throughout the 1960s, American critics extolled the British abstract artists for their successful translation of nature’s qualities into paint, most notable here in Eileen Agar’s 'Tropic of Music', which overlaps layers of shapes and planes to signify the foliage of a garden and a musical symphony within. These same critics rejected the ‘empty’ backgrounds and unrealistic sunsets in the works of their American contemporaries. In reality, however, the British lyrical abstractionists such as Gillian Ayres owed much to the American examples of Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis, who had broken away from geometrical models to project ‘free abstraction’ – an entirely spontaneous process of flinging, spattering, and dripping paint across the surface.

Concurrently, a portion of the British and American abstractionists rejected these practices to focus on incorporating themes of religion, myth, and language through symbolism, and to re-introduce important ideals of Surrealism. In Britain, Alan Davie and Terry Frost assimilated a range of motifs from the first-hand sources available to them within their local milieus, combining them with natural or figurative forms in innovative attempts to secure the future of abstract art in their country. Alfred Jensen, in America, incorporated a similar thought-process by painting Chinese number systems and symbols that had formed a part of the esoteric theorem that he had practiced outside of art. The immersive large-scale examples by these three artists on display here highlight the divergent directions that abstractionists took at the time – regardless of what proved popular, successful, or avant-garde.

The exhibition concludes with an examination of the ways in which abstract art in Britain exists today – through the work of Damien Hirst. Like Jensen, Hirst’s 'Four Seasons' evidences an artistic practice based upon systematic and concrete structure, whereby layers and order encompass and supplement the messages of the work. The cyclical nature of life and death is reflected in the perpetually changing seasons – a constant theme throughout Hirst’s oeuvre and visible again in his 'Psalm 141: Domine, clamavi' and 'Abacus'. As the twenty-first century’s grip on science ever-increases, Hirst’s works emphasise the triumph these breakthroughs over religion, evident in his 'Four Seasons' as each spot takes up the subsidiary form of a coloured medicinal tablet and questions the religious values and reassurances about life after death.

'UK vs USA: Post-War to Present' will run at Alon Zakaim Fine Art, 27 Cork Street, London W1S 3NG, until Thu 6th April 2023. Entry is free and gallery opening hours are 09.00 - 18.00, Mon – Fri.

Please contact the gallery for further information.

UK vs USA: Post-War to Present