John Golding 1929-2012


The Artist's Estate


2015, London, Piano Nobile Kings Place, John Golding: Finding the Absolute, 7 January - 4 April 2015, col. ill. p. 8-9.


J. Lundin Aral (ed.) with contributions by D. Ades, D. Anfam, E. Cowling and C. Green, John Golding (Ridinghouse, 2017), col. ill. p. 59.
Piano Nobile's recent exhibition, John Golding: Finding the Absolute, presented Golding’s works from the 1960s, most of which have not been seen for over forty years, offering a unique opportunity to re-situate Golding’s career with the prescience of his earliest abstract enterprises. Dynamic, youthful, brimming with the influences of the great proponents of abstraction – Mondrian, Malevich, Newman, Pollock – these works reveal Golding at the outset of his life-long pursuit to realise the ever-elusive promise of the absolute.

Such early works represent some of Golding’s first explorations in abstraction: at first they appear bold and exuberant statements of great confidence, however they are characterised by subtlety, precision and attention to detail demanding close inspection. Layers of paint built up over time effect a depth and richness of complex colour – a multiplicity of tonal shades. Look closely at the contour of shapes and lines, and it is clear that Golding used tape to delineate areas, that shapes underwent a process of revision. A profound focus on materiality emphasises tactility, and sensuous and bodily response.

Vol de Nuit is an outstanding example from this period of Golding's oeuvre, a masterpiece in restraint, balance and equanimity in abstraction tempered by the elusive and evocative title, 'Fly by Night' or 'Night Flight'. The painting is composed of four interlocking shapes in four rich colours of brown, black, royal blue and blue. The overt simplicity belies the subtlety of the canvas. Golding plays with the layering of the forms evoking the cut-out technique of Cubism. The supposed purity of just four colours is complicated by under layers of colours interrupting the singular tone with a variety of hues - hints of blush in the blue and brown, and light blue in the royal shade. The appealingly tactile texture of 'Vol de Nuit' is a remnant of Golding's earliest work inspired by the Mexican muralists, which he covered in sand in order to convey a certain grittiness. Although initially appearing as an analytical hard-edged geometric painting, the viewer is drawn into the various intricacies and nuances of 'Vol de Nuit', and left to wonder on the meaning of the title.

John Golding was born in Kent, England in 1929, but raised in Mexico. He attended the University of Toronto before returning to London to study for a Masters in History of Art and then a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art. His resulting thesis, written under Douglas Cooper and Anthony Blunt, formed the basis of his seminal book, Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914 (1959). Subsequently Golding became a much-loved teacher and academic at the Courtauld Institute, whilst simultaneously embarking upon a highly successful career as an artist. In 1981 Golding accepted the position of Senior Tutor in the painting department at the Royal College of Art, but he also held the Slade Professorship at Cambridge in 1978. He curated several landmark exhibitions including Léger and Purist Paris (1970) with Christopher Green, Picasso: Painter/Sculptor (1994) at the Tate and Matisse/Picasso (2002), which toured to the Tate, the Grand Palais in Paris and MoMA in New York.

As an artist, Golding had numerous one-man shows in prominent international galleries and museums, with his first solo show in London at Gallery One in 1962, and he also participated in many group exhibitions, including several international shows with his close friend, Op artist Bridget Riley. Golding was appointed a CBE in 1992 and elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1994. His work is held in numerous prominent private and public collections including the Tate, the National Gallery of Scotland and MoMA. In 1997 his masterpiece on abstract art, Paths to the Absolute, was published, as a result of the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts series that he gave at Princeton. Spanning abstraction across continents and decades, this overtly formalistic account of the prominence of abstraction in modern art remains a hugely influential account of artists' search for the 'absolute' through abstraction. He died in April 2012.