Basil Beattie

One of Britain's greatest living painters.

Building from his early engagement with Abstract Expressionism, in recent decades Beattie has increasingly adopted a system of pictographic signs; doorways, stairways, archways, ziggurats, corners and long tunnels. Despite their allusions to architectural spaces, Beattie sees these forms more as references to psychological states. Any illusion of space is also challenged by the raw physicality of the paint.


Beattie has also responded to conceptual ideas that place language at the centre of contemporary art practice and that question the importance of the expressive gesture in painting. As Beattie has explained in an interview in the journal, Turps Banana:


'When Life Magazine did that first big article on the New York painters they created a misleading impression by placing a photograph of a sunset next to a Rothko and a close-up of the girders of a bridge next to a Kline. It suggested that if you knew where to look you could see where they got their ideas from. It's the same with the imagery in my work. It's not me being fascinated by windows, doors and gates and then thinking that's a great idea for a painting. It's a state of mind to begin with, that has no form, no visibility and I resort to using things that look as if I’ve looked outside the painting when in fact I haven't. I remember a Korean artist visiting me in the 70s. He couldn't speak English but through the interpreter he said "Like sun on clouds?" I said "Yes but no". That was the end of the conversation; there was no point in going on. It would have been too complicated. The only way I wanted the painting to be like a natural phenomenon was as equivalence, not a description. I want the viewer to feel that the link with experience is authenticated by the language of the painting itself, which is informed by experience not primarily driven by the world of appearances. The painting is an inscape not a landscape.'


Basil Beattie’s career spans the emergence of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1950s to a more recent emphasis on the ambiguities of sign and signifier in visual art practice since the 1980s. During this period his work has been distinguished by the sensuous physicality of the paint which parallels that of English painters such as Gillian Ayres, Albert Irvin, John Hoyland and Americans including Morris Louis and Jules Olitski. Beattie has also had a profound influence on a generation of younger British artists, in part through his years of teaching painting at GoldsmithCollege, London in the 1980s and 1990s. He is included in many major public collections, including the Saatchi Collection and Tate Gallery. A solo exhibition of his paintings was held at Tate Britain in 2007. Beattie has been a prize-winner at the John Moore’s Liverpool Exhibition, twice short-listed for the Jerwood Painting prize and was elected a Royal Academician in 2006.