Richard Smith, Early Reply, 1972, acrylic paint, canvas, metal and fabric
In the decades following the Second World War, artists explored a number of radical approaches to the conventions and materials of painting. In Italy in the late 1950s, Pinot Gallizio produced Industrial Paintings on vast rolls of canvas, questioning the idea of the painting as a unique and commercially tradeable object. By bringing together different styles of abstract and figurative painting his work appeared to undermine the authority of either approach. If Gallizio was deflating the mystique of painting by adopting the technique of the production line, other artists enlivened it with acts of symbolic violence. Shozo Shimamoto in Japan and Niki de Saint Phalle in France each subjected painting to physical assault, producing works by hole-punching silver paper, or shooting a canvas embedded with paint-filled balloons. Though their works were abstract and even playful, the artists connected the production of painting to the memory of and continuing experience of war.
By the 1970s, artists were focusing on the physical structure of the painting. Sam Gilliam abandoned the wooden stretcher and draped an acrylic-stained canvas over a hook, knowing that it would never fall in exactly the same way from oneinstallation to the next. Richard Smith created a grid of aluminium poles that he used as the support for a green canvas sewn with various diagonal tapes. Frank Bowling – who knew Smith from his years in London, and Gilliam from time spent in New York – started in the 1980s to use thick acrylic gels to embed objects such as plastic toys and oyster shells onto a richly coloured surface.