In 1965 New York’s MOMA held an exhibition titled ‘The Responsive Eye’. It presented to the public one of the first retrospective exhibitions on the new movement Optical Art. Artists such as Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, Jesús Soto, Yaacov Agam, and Frank Stella, were included in this groundbreaking exhibition. While in New York, artist Patricia Poullain visited this exhibition, inspired by the work and its ‘geometric hard edges’, she decided from then on to pursue a career in ‘Pure Painting’.
Pure Painting as Poullain describes is not trying to tell a story or create symbolism; it isn’t about a mood or an expression, it is just purely painting. The way the colours work together and the way the proportions and shapes work together creates a structure. This allows Poullain to be disciplined in her application. Poullain will spend time sitting, just looking at a canvas before applying paint to see if it calls out for a certain shape or colour. She works ‘on a flat plain…not trying to deceive the eye, perhaps to tease it a little’ and is inspired by Matisse’s idea – the more it is flat, the more it is beautiful. Poullain’s paintings have always steered clear of large scale gesture and overt displays of feelings.
It can be argued that Op Art wouldn’t have been possible let alone embraced by the public without the prior Abstract and Expressionist movements that de-emphasized representational subject matter. In many cases this is the same of Poullain’s work – it has remained remarkably consistent since the sixties and in general avoids the disruptive aspects of Op Art, but it also embraces Abstraction in the idea that the subject (if any) is based on what you see.
A question that springs to mind is how these works relate to the context of contemporary art culture? Are we still discussing issues raised more than 40 years ago? Can the concerns and ideas artist faced then have a correlation to the concerns of today’s artists? By consistently and systematically producing work that talks about ideas of form, colour and shape, Poullain references the movements of the sixties whilst reaffirming notions of optical phenomena and abstraction. Like Bridget Riley who has steadfastly created Op Art from its beginning to the present day (with slight shifts in achromatic to chromatic), Poullain aged 87 is still purely painting. She has created works which are in general, purposefully uneventful. Her work is more about the process of painting than the representation of a subject matter which shows some underlining deconstruction of modernist thought.
Patricia Poullain will be visiting London to attend the Shakespeare Readers Society Event as well as meeting with her dealer Sandra Higgins to discuss her work and exhibitions. If you would like to meet Patricia and view her work at the Gallery Petit in Chelsea, please email Sandra at email@example.com.