Held in the same private collection since its creation in 1971, Untitled is a magnificent diptych that Paul Thek painted whilst staying in Stockholm for the opening of his exhibition Pyramid/A Work in Progress at the Moderna Museet in November that year. The painting depicts a trip which the artist and his assistant and prop man at the time took on his pilot ship – visible in the right-hand panel – showing Thek and his friends the Stockholm archipelago. The excursion took place on All Saints Day which, in Sweden, is traditionally marked by lighting candles and visiting the graves of deceased relatives. This ritual is captured in the left-hand panel, where gravestones and glowing lights are visible through the trees.
Though Thek later became known for his installations and sculptures, often created using ephemeral materials, it was originally through the medium of paint that he first established himself as an artist. He was greatly inspired by the natural landscape, and the soft marine palette, dappled light and intuitive brushstrokes of the present work align it with his landmark series of works depicting the Italian island of Ponza, where he spent a great deal of time during the late 1960s and 1970s. Situated between Naples and Sardinia of the coast of Southern Italy, the island became a regular summer retreat for the artist, allowing him the freedom to develop his painterly language outside his busy international exhibition schedule. ‘Paul spent every day on the water’, recalls his friend Ann Wilson, who visited Ponza on numerous occasions. ‘Those colours of blue went straight into his work’ (A. Wilson, quoted in R. Pastan, ‘Remembering Paul Thek: A Conversation with Ann Wilson and Peter Harvey’, 30 June 2014, http:/icaphila.org/miranda/6175/remembering-paul-thek-a-conversation-with-ann-wilson-andpeter- harvey [accessed 24 February 2016]). In the present painting, Thek’s kaleidoscopic combination of cerulean blue, aquamarine, azure, sapphire and turquoise is deeply evocative of his summer sojourn. Indeed, Thek reportedly asked Pontus Hultén, the thendirector of the Moderna Museet, if he could postpone the exhibition opening until mid-November because, as he explained, ‘September and October are the most fabulously beautiful months here on Ponza, the tourists have gone and I can work quietly all by myself outside on the beaches’ (P. Thek, quoted in H. Falckenberg and P. Weibel (eds.), Paul Thek: Artist’s Artist, Karlsurhe 2008, p. 160). In Untitled, away from the hustle and bustle of exhibition preparation, Thek is reunited with the water once again in a moment of peaceful autumnal refection.