Three case studies

Fiona Rae (b. 1963) is part of the group called YBA and an elected member of the RA and was the youngest at the time. 

Fiona finds working with paint and painting keeps her constantly interested and intrigued.  She says ‘There are lots of things you can do with paint, and to my mind, why restrict yourself ‘. ‘I never think of painting as old-fashioned; I regard it as valid and as relevant today as any other form of art’.  Everything is old fashioned if it has been around for a year or two such as TV, video, and installation.  The important thing is how the artist interpretates the ideas. (Rae, 2008)

Everything in Fiona’s studio is well organised, an eight-foot table is used as her palette, and her huge collection of brushes are on a table on wheels that she move around the studio.  Old palettes are kept for reference, and she sometimes scrapes off the impasto to apply to a painting. 

Fig. 1 Wonderland 2004 by Fiona Rae

Fiona plans her paintings, sometimes using Photoshop to work out her first ideas and maps out colour schemes to print out.  She likes to improvise so these may be abandoned later.   Her colour combinations are unusual, she feels they talk to each other, rather than clash, and collected pop images in her paintings are an important part of their appeal.   She is an avid collector of images, playful objects, Pop Art, paper clippings, in fact anything which she thinks could inspire her imagination. 

Photoshop is something I have not tried but will be a very useful tool to try out colour combinations in my work. 

Keeping her space clean, tidy, with everything in its place and easy to find is a great example of how to organise my studio.  So much time can be wasted by looking for things.

I will take from her interview that it is okay to do what you are not supposed to do and be more adventurous.

Albert Irvin (1922-2015)

Albert Irvin was influenced initially by J.M.W. Turner and originally did figurative paintings with subject matter. 

‘I saw the American exhibition at the Tate – Pollock, de Kooning, Kline and Rothko and all, and Barnett Newman.  It was really like a great bomb bursting’. (Irwin, 2010).

The American exhibition was a huge turning point in his art. He said he wanted to make paintings about the human condition, with no images of human beings in them.  He listened to classical music as he painted and wanted to produce a more direct contact with the viewer in the same way that music has.

He was teaching at Goldsmiths College at the time and Flodden 1978 was a road he used to go down. He felt that his paintings were informed by his movements through his urban world and the street is a kind of symbol for this. 

‘You’ve just got the colour and the structure, the bones that hold it. And then other things to complement it, to kick it into action like the green and the blue.  These are not expressive marks at all; they are pushed into place and the material itself does the painting. You’ve kind of offered the thing out there, and it has done it itself in a way.  And this is one of the things that he reacted against later.  I felt I wanted to make an autographic mark’.   

He went on to says ‘Empress 1982 was an exciting year for me, I got all the exciting points I wanted to see, the kind of points I was feeling.  I wanted to be able to feel that the marks I was making were expressive marks, were autographic like a diary. Where were you at 4.30, I was up here at the top, at 6.15pm I was down here at the bottom’. (Irvin, 2010)

Fig. 4 St Germain 1995 by Albert Irvin

Irvin painted St Germain 1995 (2140 x 3056 mm) in vibrant colours of Acrylic emulsion on a single piece of medium plain-weave duck canvas. The variety of consistencies and techniques used to create layer upon layer of marks, and tremendous. The depth he achieved is very impressive, and I can feel his joy and freedom coming through the more I look at this painting. His determination to succeed and to keep working until he reached his goal is a lesson I will learn from him.

At the end of the interview he was asked. Finally, how would you like to be remembered?  He laughed and replied ‘I would like to be remembered’ (Irvin, 2010).

Eva Hesse 1936-1970

Eva Hesse was considered one of the foremost artists of the twentieth century.  She tragically died of a brain tumour at the age of thirty-four.  She was a very complex artist who produced a very individual body of work.

Eva Hesse came to prominence during the mid-1960’s, at a time when the art world was going through a period of reappraisal and reform of their attitude to the traditional practices of art, the women’s movement and the sexual revolution was in full swing. 

Prior to her return to New York, Hesse and her husband, Tom Doyle, took a residency in Kettwig an der Ruhr, Germany, which lasted fifteen months.  This was an important period, when after reflecting on her key working drawings, paintings, and her approach to materials and colour, she left behind her two-dimensional practice, and her work began to move towards sculpture. 

A disused textile factory in German provided Hesse with a Studio space and the abandoned machines, parts, tools, and materials became her inspiration for future works.   

Hesse contributed to radical changes in sculptural work, she rejected the huge mass of the ridged conventional sculptures.  Her practice became more random, she developed the use of unconventional materials such as felt, rubber, molten lead, wax, rope, latex, fiberglass, plastic, cheesecloth, wire, and string.  Reflecting the transient nature of life, all these materials would gradually decompose with the passage of time. Sol LeWitt, an artist friend, had told her ‘Stop thinking and just do’.  Meaning to find experience within the human body.

Fig. 7 Untitled Rope Piece 1970 by Eva Hesse

Her work was labour intensive, and sometimes repetitive, she used latex like household paint applying layer after layer.   This is apparent in Expanded Expansion 1969 with her use of rigid supports and draped cheesecloth coated in rubber. The structure was like a concertina that could be expanded or reduced to whatever size was needed. The Untitled: Rope Piece 1969-1970 could also be displayed to fit the area to be used, it has thirteen hanging points which would be impossible to be the same every time it was moved. I feel these works were about the use of space.

Hesse considered Hang Up 1966 to be her most important early statement. 

‘the most ridiculous structure that I ever made and that is why it is really good. It has a kind of depth I don’t always achieve and that is the kind of depth or soul or absurdity or life or meaning or feeling or intellect that I want to get’. (Hesse, 1970)   

It was basically a wooden picture frame about five feet square which was bound with fabric and painted with acrylic in shades of grey.  A cord-covered steel tubing about ten feet long was attached a few inches in from the top left corner which looped down onto the floor and then re-attached a few inches in from the bottom right corner.

Some quotes from Hesse in a recorded interview with Cindy Nemser,

‘All I wanted was to find my own scene, my own world, my own inner peace or inner turmoil; but I wanted it to be mine’ (Hesse,1970)….

‘I know art history. I know what I believe in, I know where I come from or I’m related to or the work that I’ve looked at that I’m really personally convinced by and feel close to or connected with or attached to. But I feel so strongly that the only art is the art of the artist personally. It is truly, as much as possible, for themselves, by themselves. It is impossible to be isolated completely. But my interest is in finding solely my own way’. (Hesse,1970)

Reading about Eva Hesse has been quite a journey for me.  It has given me an insight into an artist’s thinking about how she works, randomly and intuitively.  Some of her work appears to be overtly sexual, although she denies this.   Some seemed to me to be about space as in Hang Up when the cord intruded out of the frame into the gallery space and in Expanded Extension when the installation could take up more or less space.   My research has been quite intensive, and I will take what Sol LeWitt said to Hesse ‘Stop thinking and just do’ into my own work.

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)

Richter described painting as a way of thinking ‘The first impulse towards painting, or towards art in general, stems from the need to communicate …without this all work would be pointless and unjustified, like Art for Art’s sake.’  (Notes 1962).

Richter’s early work was representational, as in his portrait of Betty 1977 and later his portrait of Ella 2007.  He continually changed his way of painting; he experimented with black and white on large canvases exploring the possibilities of grey.  He said ‘it is better than any other colour to clarify nothingness’.   Richter felt he had taken his studies of grey as far as he could.

He decided to go in a totally different direction using architectural and geometric forms and bright colours as in Construction 1976 (250 x 300cm).  This painting contains all the elements of colour, scale, depth, flatness, and illusionism which preoccupied him for the next decade or more.

Richter went through a period of doubt, he began to use his camera to reinterpret images rather than as a source for his paintings.  This was the period where he laid the foundations for his non-objective abstract paintings.  On small canvases he put random illogical colours and forms, which were devoid of any meaning or logic.  He said it was exciting, as if a new door had opened for him. He photographed details of each stage of the sketches.  He produced slides with crops of the photographs and projected them onto larger canvases, he would then copy the projected images.  Richter referred to them as ‘pictures’ rather than ‘paintings’.   He said, ‘they replace the reality of the painted studies with their appearance’. Richter 2009, p.114).

The next stage was a new form of independent abstraction using studies with line, colour and camera. Richter was most interested in surface texture and vibrant colours.  He had tried dragging a dry brush technique, but dragging paint across the surface of the canvas with a home-made squeegee gave him a quality he had previously failed to achieve.  He liked the element of chance as he did not know what it would reveal.  He also used scraping and scratching to reveal the hidden colours in the layers underneath.  This method of painting reinvigorated him.  He increased his previous output from about 30 paintings a year to 60 in 1981 and 55 in 1982.

‘Abstract pictures are fictive models if they make visible reality that we can neither see or describe, but in its existence we can postulate.  In abstract painting we have found a better way of gaining access to the indivisible or incomprehensible.’  (Richter, 2013)

I find Gerhard Richter very inspirational because of the changing processes he has gone through in his painting career.  He did not agree, with the notions of the time, that painting was dead and continued his explorations of painting media to achieve his goal of becoming an abstract artist. 

Notes for future use.

1. Use a camera to create abstract compositions.

2. Taking photographs at each stage to record the process as it unfolds. 

3.  olour sketches to find exciting combination of colours.

4.  Keep going even in doubt or disheartened.

5.  It is okay to start without a specific idea and just let it happen.


Fig. 1 Rae, F. (2004) Wonderland by Fiona Rae [Oil, acrylic and glitter on canvas] At: (Accessed 27/05/2021).

Fig. 2 Irvin,A. Flodden (1978) [Acrylic on canvas] At:  (Accessed 15/05/2021).

Fig.3 Irvin, A. Empress (1982) [Acrylic on canvas] At: (Accessed 15/05/2021).

Fig. 4 Irvin, A. St Germaine (1995) [Acrylic on canvas] At: (Accessed 27/05/2021).

Fig. 5. Hesse, Eva  Expanded Expansion (1969)  At: (Accessed 29/05/2021)

Fig .6. Hesse, E.  Hang Up (1966) At:   (Accessed 30/05/2021)

Fig. 7. Hesse, E.  Untitled: Rope Piece  (1969-1970) At:  (Accessed 29/05/2021).

Fig. 8. Richter, G. Betty  (1977) At: (Accessed 05/06/2021).

Fig. 9. Richter, G Ella  (2007) At: (Accessed 05/06/2021)

Fig. 10 Richter, G. Construction (1976) At: (Accessed 10/06/2021)

Fig. 11 Richter, G 128 Details from a picture Halifax (1978) At: (Accessed 10/06/2019)

Fig. 12 Richter, G, Kreig (War) 1981 At; (Accessed 10/06/2021)

Fig. 13 Richter, G. Mozart  1981 At: (Accessed 10/06/2021)

Fig. 14 Richter, G. Forest 2005 At: (Accessed 10/06/2021)

Fig. 15 Richter, G. Cage 2 2006 At: (Accessed 10/06/21)


Irvin, A. Albert Irvin: Colours of Feeling (2019) Interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist. At: (Accessed 15/05/2021).

Irvin, A.  Albert Irvin at Tate Stores 2010 At: (Accessed 15/05/2021).

Nemser, Cindy. (2007) ‘ My Memories of Eva Hesse’ In:  Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, 2007, pp. 26–28.  At: (Accessed 16/05/2021).

Rae, F.  Interview with Fiona Rae 2011   At: (Accessed 27/05/2021).

Tooby, M.  Albert Irvin obituary (2015) At: (Accessed 15/05/2021).

Nicholas Serota on Gerhard Richter 2012

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