NICHOLSON Ben
Born in 1894 at Denham, Buckinghamshire, son of the painter Sir William Nicholson ( 1872-1949). He studied at the Slade School, then in Tours, Milan, and Pasadena, California. In 1933-1934 in Paris he exhibited with the Abstraction-Creation group and during the inter-war period was one of the foremost links between Great Britain and the modern movement in Europe. He is considered the leading English non-figurative painter. The creator of abstract compositions -- sometimes treated plastically as bas-reliefs -- and of highly stylized landscapes and still-lifes, Nicholson seeks above all to express static, architectural themes of great simplicity of form. His art is a kind of exact, refined geometry, controlled always by exquisite judgement and heightened by a range of colours that is best described as chaste. The same objects borrowed from everyday life -a pitcher, a table, a glass -- serve as the basis for an infinite number of variations which, through subtle modulations, result in an increasingly complex series of linear rhythms and constructions. Within the fastidious limits imposed by his intellect and his sensibility, Nicholson has been drawn, now towards the classical, now towards the romantic ideal. He started from a basis of clear-cut reality and gradually, after a period of increased schematization, reached in his white plaster reliefs of around 1935 a culmination in the organization of static relationships. His evolution did not stop there, however, with these pure distillations of the circle and the rectangle, but has come full cycle to a renewed, even more purified concept of reality. In this more recent work are resolved the two sides of his nature, represented by his respect for Mondrian and his admiration for Alfred Wallis, the old Cornish primitive. Nicholson has written '. . . so far from "abstract" art being the withdrawal of the artist from reality (into an "ivory tower") it has brought art once again into common everyday life . . .', and '. . . the problems dealt with in "abstract" art are related to the interplay of forces and therefore, . . . any solution reached has a bearing on all interplay between forces: it is related to Arsenalv Tottenham Hotspur quite as much as to the stars in their courses.' Nicholson's contribution to the abstract movement is a highly individual one. In spite of the severity of his style and the rigour of his geometrical conception, his work retains an intensely English character. A certain gentleness and discreet lyricism relate him to the English water-colourists, as do the lightness of his touch and the transparency of his colour. He is represented in museums all over the world. In 1952 he was awarded the first prize for painting at the 39th International Exhibition at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh.
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