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    Sale 5390

    20th Century British Art

    7 October 2008, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 218

    Jean Spencer (1942-1998)

    Diagonal Relief No.1

    Price Realised  

    Jean Spencer (1942-1998)
    Diagonal Relief No.1
    painted wood, unframed
    24 x 24 in. (61 x 61 cm.)
    Conceived in 1967.


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    Diagonal Relief No. 1 is an excellent example of Spencer's early period of white reliefs. It also illustrates an essential element of the work of the later Systems Group of which she was a member - imagery with an underlying mathematical or geometric logic. In this case, the framework is a meticulously sub-divided square onto which two other squares are superimposed, cut and separated by their diagonals. The rhythm and interaction between these forms is brought to life by the interplay of light and shadow across the monochrome surface. When discussing works of this kind, Spencer pointed out that although calculation and measurement was involved in the composition, the form of the final relief was essentially a matter of subjective judgement about its visual impact. In the words of Anthony Hill, a British pioneer of systematic constructive abstraction in the 1950s, 'the mathematical thematic can only be a component: one is calculating or organising something that is clearly not mathematical' (Structure Magazine, February 1961, p. 59).

    A.F.

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    Pre-Lot Text

    Jean Spencer (1942 - 1998) was in her second year as a student at the Bath Academy of Art when her tutors, Malcolm Hughes and John Ernest, introduced her to the concepts and practice of systematised constructive abstraction. This became the focus of her work for the rest of her life. After leaving Bath she embarked on an art teaching career, spending twenty years with Bulmershe College in Reading where she eventually became Head of Department. From 1988 she taught at the Slade where she was appointed Reader in Fine Art in 1995. As well as teaching, she was active in the organisation of discussion groups, exhibitions and workshops for Exhibiting Space (a 1980s group of young artists of many disciplines) and Countervail, which she co-founded with the sociologist Elizabeth Chaplin to promote a group of women artists. Spencer held her first solo exhibition at the Bear Lane Gallery in Oxford in 1965 and in 1969 joined the Systems Group, co-founded by Jeffrey Steele and her lifelong partner (later husband) Malcolm Hughes. She exhibited with this group's exhibitions in the 1970s and in the Arts Council's important Constructive Context exhibition in 1978. Spencer was always an internationalist, and in 1980 joined Arbeitskreiss - a group promoting systematic constructive art founded by the Swiss artist, Richard Lohse and the German constructivist, Ewerdt Hilgemann. Spencer had begun exhibiting in Europe before 1980, but from that year onwards, her involvement in a wide range of group exhibitions grew extensively with some thirty shows in Austria, Finland, Germany, Holland, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Yugoslavia. Her less frequent showings in the UK included group exhibitions in Glasgow Art Gallery, South London Art Gallery and the Liverpool Wentworth Gallery. In 2007, the Yarrow Gallery at Oundle held a Jean Spencer retrospective for which Sir Nicholas Serota wrote the catalogue foreword and commented on the 'extraordinary presence, intensity, and freshness of colour' in the work she produced after the purity and precision of her earlier white reliefs (Exhibition catalogue, Jean Spencer; A Retrospective Exhibition, Oundle, Yarrow Gallery, 2006, p. 7). Sir Nicholas Serota was also responsible for the selection and exhibition of Jean Spencer's work at Tate Britain in 1999.

    Public collections holding her work include those of the Arts Council, Tate Gallery, Churchill and New Hall Colleges of Cambridge and the city Art Galleries of Birmingham, Manchester and Southampton.

    Please note the funds from lots 218 - 220 will be divided and gifted to Marie Curie Cancer Care, the Wokingham & District Association and The Scottish Malawi Fund.

    We are very grateful to Dr. Alan Fowler for providing the introductions and catalogue notes for lots 218 - 223.