John Golding:Working Space at Annely Juda shows a group of paintings first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1971. Golding was born in 1929 and died earlier this year. The exhibition runs until 4th October.
Coming into the Annely Juda gallery to be surrounded by the monumental, wall sized paintings, with their huge empty spaces, I stopped. What was it I asked myself, that I felt? It was something I knew. It took some time then I recognised it. It was a charged hush, as if I had entered a national library, quiet, but full of hidden, immense knowledge. Shh it said to me. The paintings may look neutral, the space enclosed may look empty, but like the books in the library, or the desks of a university examination room, or indeed the pews of a cathedral, the space was charged, electrified by thoughts, brains and feelings working at top speed.
The works are not demanding our attention they simply have it, but quieting us, surrounding us as an installation like a draught of clean fresh water. Peaceful, restful, respectful, a balm to our senses; impressive substance for sure; American quotation most evident in their giant scale, giving space to wander, to wonder, the works gradually revealing themselves.
They are not at all shouty. No adolescent pulling down of pants, no shit shock screaming horror tantrum to grab attention. Shh, please be quiet we are thinking.
No, of course not, please go first, I have all eternity to encompass. Very clever. Truly distinguished, under the radar, rather than rock and roll celebrity. Golding’s paintings are like his persona, engendering respect, with calmness and lucidity, always courteous, decent but charged with untold knowledge.
This exceptionally well connected, top Establishment, perfectly mannered, pleasant, privileged, gently humorous academic, art historian whiz, turns out to be an iceberg: seven-tenths invisible. Half Mexican, Golding was raised in Mexico before World War II, meeting the muralists Orozco, and Diego Rivera, as well as Surrealists living there such as Leonora Carrington. Golding then moved to Canada, studying at the University of Toronto, thus was often able to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After graduating he worked as a set designer before moving to London in 1951 for graduate study in art history at the Courtauld Institute, under Anthony Blunt and Douglas Cooper. While still a student at the Courtauld, on research visits to MoMA, Golding met and interviewed Marcel Duchamp, and decided to be a painter as well.
They work as a whole, these paintings at the Juda, an installation of monumental tranquility, stillness, serenity. His theatrical background in Toronto was perhaps the origin of his sense of the exhibition as an emotionally engaging, orchestrated event. He had agreed to the exhibition before his death in April, and perhaps spent many hours pushing photographs around on his kitchen table in west London to determine the most telling arrangement of how the ensemble should be presented. The setting and juxtapositions are key parts of the work.
In his book, Paths to the Absolute (2000), Golding effectively wrote his credo: that abstract art was not simply decorative but, as he put it in the preface, was “heavily imbued with meaning… with content.” He was committed to pushing painting forward in the exploration of colour and light. He used his colour – “colour at the side of your retina, colour present when you close your eyes” – in these mammoth works.
As one looks one realises that a bit of the lower rectangle has been covered by the larger one on top, but is still there, leaving its presence felt. One can almost see it. I say almost because at first one thinks it is a pale after image caused by so much smooth colour. But no it isn’t your eyes, there is an underneath lurking still. There is a ‘there there’ as Gertrude Stein might have said. One can then discern this effect in all the works.
Wondering about comparable art installations, Rothko’s darkened room at Tate M comes to mind. Yes, they act as an installation together and bring a great quietness. But no, there is such angst revealed there. It sits in gloom, whereas Golding’s art is clean, bright, modern; shooing away dark corners as it shushes. What a relief. Let there be light not angst.
In this exhibition there is also a small room of paper collaged works. They are extremely fine and attractive, but for me, they lack the especial excitement of the scale of the large paintings.
Again in his ‘Paths to the Absolute’, Golding wrote: “Mondrian wrote extensively, about art, as also – at even greater length – did Malevich and Kandinsky. At the same time each painter insisted that in practice he proceeded purely intuitively and was not primarily a theoretician.” To this list we add Golding.
C. Moray de Morand is a painter living in London