The Loaded Brush

Brett Gorvy, Christie’s International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, on a major private selling exhibition in Hong Kong bringing together works inspired by the possibilities of the loaded brush

‘For an artist, the loaded brush represents a world of possibilities,’ explains Brett Gorvy, Christie’s International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art. It is fitting, therefore, that The Loaded Brush is the title of a major private selling exhibition of paintings, sculpture, works on paper and ceramics at Christie’s Hong Kong, from 23 to 28 November. 

‘Standing before an empty canvas, the artist is at the beginning of a creative journey. Often that journey has an unknown destination, and the artist’s brush leads the way. On other occasions the brush is the tool with which its master makes physical what is generated in the mind.’

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Pastorale   signed de Kooning (lower left),  oil on canvas,  70 x 80 in (177.8 x 203.2 cm). Painted in 1963

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Pastorale signed 'de Kooning' (lower left),  oil on canvas,  70 x 80 in (177.8 x 203.2 cm). Painted in 1963

‘The loaded brush relates directly to the artist Willem de Kooning,’ adds Gorvy, ‘and the notion of the artist standing before his canvas and loading up his brush — heavy with material, heavy with ideas, heavy with the concept of what he is trying to achieve.’ 

For Pablo Picasso, the loaded brush was a co-conspirator in his rebellious act of breaking down the human figure. For de Kooning, it allowed him to generate the gestural marks that abandoned the traditions of abstraction and figuration, resulting in sumptuous and impasto-laden canvases that merged figure and landscape. For Andy Warhol and Richard Prince, the traditional supremacy of the loaded brush needed to be challenged as they sought to question the authenticity of gestural painting.

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)  Woman in Landscape, signed de Kooning (lower right),  oil on paper laid down on canvas,  30⅜ x 41½ in (77.2 x 105.4 cm).  Painted in 1970

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) Woman in Landscape, signed 'de Kooning' (lower right),  oil on paper laid down on canvas,  30⅜ x 41½ in (77.2 x 105.4 cm).  Painted in 1970

For some artists, adapting the traditional notion of the brush forged exciting new paths. Gerhard Richter swapped his loaded brush for a loaded squeegee as he looked to deconstruct the entire nature of the painted surface. The influence of the loaded brush also cast its effect over the medium of sculpture too, as artists embraced the inherent nature of their materials.

Among the array of paintings and sculptures to be shown in Hong Kong are Woman in Landscape (1970) by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Portrait of a Man Walking (circa 1953) by Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and Joan Mitchell’s (1925-1992) No Room at the End, from 1977.

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Portrait of a Man Walking, oil on canvas   59½ x 46 in (151.1 x 116.8 cm). Painted c. 1953

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Portrait of a Man Walking, oil on canvas 59½ x 46 in (151.1 x 116.8 cm). Painted c. 1953

There is, adds Gorvy, ‘a very direct correlation’ among these artists to many of the ideas explored by Asian artists, such as calligraphy and the sense of action seen throughout the history of Asian art.

Kazuo Shiraga (b. 1924) Chibisei Waikyakuko, signed in Japanese and dated ‘1959.7’  (lower right);   signed again, dated again and titled in Japanese and English  ‘Kazuo Shiraga 1959 Chibisei Waikyakuko’  (on the reverse),  oil on canvas  48½ x 47¼ in (123.2 x 120 cm). Painted in 1959

Kazuo Shiraga (b. 1924) Chibisei Waikyakuko, signed in Japanese and dated ‘1959.7’ (lower right); signed again, dated again and titled in Japanese and English ‘Kazuo Shiraga 1959 Chibisei Waikyakuko’ (on the reverse),  oil on canvas 48½ x 47¼ in (123.2 x 120 cm). Painted in 1959

The Loaded Brush represents an opportunity for Asian collectors to see first-hand artists normally sold chiefly through New York or London. Many of the works exhibited will ultimately be offered for sale, although Christie’s has borrowed additional works from major collectors that will, says Gorvy, ‘create a greater dialogue amongst the works of art that are being presented’.

The exceptional works on show in The Loaded Brush in Hong Kong seek to examine the creative process and the artists who championed it. By harnessing the idea of the loaded brush, these men and women sought to innovate, celebrate and challenge — in the process bringing us some exquisite works of art, and in many cases changing the nature of painting and sculpture for ever.