John Golding 1929-2012


The Artist's Estate


2017, London, The Arts Club and Piano Nobile, John Golding: Pure Colour Sensation with introduction by D. Anfam, cat. no. 3, col. ill. pp. 18-19.


Growing up in Mexico, it was the Mexican muralists, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and in particular José Clemente Orozco, who were the formative influences upon John Golding. It was not just the sheer scale of the murals, but that the intention of the murals was borne out through painting technique – grit and sand rooting the paint in the very earth of Mexico, agitated brushstrokes and sombre colours reflecting the political, social and personal anguish the artists felt – which left their impression upon Golding. It was, however, his encounter with the New York School of Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, which proved the catalyst for Golding to move into pure abstraction and abandon the human figures that had populated his earlier work. Speaking to friend and co-curator of two Picasso exhibitions at the Tate in 1994 and 2002, Elizabeth Cowling, in an interview for Artists’ Lives, Golding recollected that his turn to abstraction was in “recognition of what was happening in America in the 1950s…the most important thing going on in painting [of the day] but it took me a long time to find a way into abstraction”.

A renowned art historian, curator, and teacher at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Golding’s academic specialisation was, from the outset of his career, abstraction. Golding was in a unique situation as an art historian of the earliest European abstraction of Mondrian, Malevich, and Kandinsky, a teacher at the Royal College of Art, an active critic of and co-exhibitor with British contemporaries particularly Anthony Caro and Bridget Riley, and an artistic colleague of American counterparts including Pollock, Rothko, Still and Newman.

Golding’s working process required several months of protracted evolution to produce a completed painting. He explained to Cowling that this extensive duration was required so that each work developed its own psychological character. By the 1970s, the hard-edged geometrical abstraction of the mid-to-late 1960s canvases had progressed into horizontally oriented canvases with two or three loosely painted, irregular vertical bands of colour. Golding applied layers of thin, fast-drying acrylic paint onto duck cotton canvases, on mainly a large scale, as with the present work, but also occasionally on smaller jewel-like canvases. Working in layers and bands, Golding sought to interweave light and space in the paintings of the 1970s. Although abstract, these works were not pursuing flatness but, conversely, establishing depth – formal, emotional, intellectual - through blocks of luminous striated colour.