Euan Uglow: An Art of Enduring Stillness
尤恩·烏格洛: 恆久靜謐的藝術

Euan Uglow might be seen as the finest exemplar of the tradition of Euston Road painting but then this places a limit on how he might be considered twenty-four years after his death. In his later years his somewhat spartan method of painting, was infused by a sensual use of colour that connects radiance to finest modulation of tonal control within post-second World War British painting. Alongside this, there is a deeply felt absorption of the principles of analytical philosophy that are to be discovered within his generation which served to infuse his strict method with a thinking process which is likewise compelling. And yet there is a further element which is furnished by the way he had progressively fashioned his eye looking at an art historical lineage that was largely of his own sensibility. Of course, Cezanne had provided the sensible anchorage for Euston Road painting, but Uglow extended further back in this lineage to the paintings of Piero Della Francesca whose employment of inner geometry was to provide him with a quality of mystery that transcended the learnings of his location as both a school within its setting. So, we have the combination of a tradition of painting, tonal mastery of colour, a grasp of the analytical tradition of thinking, sustained looking at artworks, and an almost mystical absorption of the workings of pictorial geometry all modulated with a devoted relationship to the actual energetics of a studio practice.

Often the idea of a ‘painter’s painter’ is evoked but there is a quality of a hushed singularity in relationship to his art as if entirely against the grain of his time. It was as though there might be something closer to an arrest of time within this practice or even a regression of modernism’s restless strife toward a flirtation with its own demise. If there was a quest that through which consciousness of time might be discovered, then it is in its very withdrawal. There is something in this of the art of Morandi, although not on the level of style or manner. His drawing practice was a model of schematic balance between the essential and the observed (never formulaic though), but strictly without the recourse to gestural release or posture. There is just enough of something to provide for a passage toward the act of painting. Again, there is no pursuit of a fashioned like look, or a Baroque excess leading towards painterly flourish or fullness. Only through a mediation on what was essential to the project remained, almost without content. Hence an endurance of time stripped of spontaneous becoming served as a template but as this, if there was any sense of religion, it was in stillness, and it is in this that we are left to discover an accord with Piero. This accord is not within technique, nor style or manner, but one of vision and ontological bearing. Here there is a singularity that resists temporal flux. In the twentieth century this is a rare quality that can be seen in the art of Giacometti, whose orientation was designated to be that of the Egyptian by the writer Jean Genet. Not that they might have found mutuality here, but there is a proximity to a form of temporal regression that is in common and with this a struggle with a single motif that was its own demand. Both artists showed only that which could be exhibited, but each sought a different grammar through which to do so. Giacometti in an art of endless commas, whereas Uglow was inclined to seek the limit of full stops. Both seemed to know what lay beyond grammar was unspeakable, hence pass through as silence because no discernible content lay there.

In conjunction to this, there is of course far more sceptical readings of this art as a machinic like depiction of the human form, into a serial like encounter with dots and dashes. Allied to this a sense of subjectivity being stripped away, leaving the tracing of the shell of human encounter in which the possibility of a spontaneous coming-to-be is withdrawn as the geometrical means of arresting the possibility of errancy. So, all of this might add up to the loss of the subject, and a corresponding elevation of objectification. The body is not only that of the female, but one that is rendered mute. This then is process of life drawing intrinsically on that is one based upon a dominant male visual code, and if so, is the abstractions invested within a certain process of objectification, acts as a partial corrective to this? Rather than the wild and free body as a release within imaginative projection, there was instead a disciplinary apparatus of the life room that served as a machinery of reduction. Thus, a model of almost extreme empirical encounter of the body was established as a counterpoint to a sense of an expressive conduit of motion (symptoms and passions) or of life’s theatre.

As a culture we require this process of reading and counter reading, of a crossing over the lines which might offer such a difference, for without such a mobility of critique, we are left only with a rhetoric of taste. Within this motion across contested lines of perception, we might add our own lines of a man looking at the grace of a Piero painting in the National Gallery, of someone making a small drawing of the philosopher Richard Wollheim as a testament to numerous discussions on the paintings of Poussin, of a six or seven-year passage painting a single canvas (The Diagonal, 1971-77) up to the point of it achieving rightness or limit. Alongside all of this, the lines that are drawn as visible trace, we might then add these other lines, for it is within the combination of such lines that an art emerges constituted by the measure provided by the tapestry of the real and the imaginary.

Euan Uglow, The Diagonal, 1971-77

As an artist who just saw the coming of a ne century he was curiously apart from all the noise of the second half of the century he had formed his practice within. His was an art that sought its own tribunal, a tribunal that demanded only a sense of the space of being-with this passage as a mode of occupancy. He was finally a painter of few words, who did not expect much by way of words in return. Little to be said, instead to be shown.




Euan Uglow, The Blue Towel, 1982





More about : Euan Uglow

Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert

22 May – 19 July 2024



Text by Jonathan Miles

Edited by Michelle Yu


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