Out-Line 2 belongs to a series of five paintings of the same title which explore the concept of space. The barrier between inside and outside had been broken by American artists such as Barnett Newman at least in one direction: outwards. But Denny was not content with this one dimensional solution. He clarified his ideas in the Out-Line series. The present work formulates the problem: in the centre, dominating the composition, is a block of vertical bands, all around it is a scaffolding of lines whose architectonic character is stressed by the insertion of two angles of perspective. The composition forms a kind of gateway. One senses that the starting point in these works is always the human body: Denny wanted these paintings to be hung just six inches above the floor so the viewer had a sense that he or she could just step into the picture. The vertical can always take on a hieratic human quality. Nothing, however, is simple in Denny’s work, despite their stripped down appearance. They are resolutely flat and yet the use of colour, the juxtaposition of the various bands, has a deliberate optical effect, creating ‘space in colour’ (to borrow a phrase from Patrick Heron), even when that colour is contained within plumb-straight lines. As Margaret Garlake has commented, in Denny’s works from the 1960s, ‘despite their overall balance and resolution, they are inherently contradictory, challenging the viewer’s perceptual expectations. There is neither "figure" nor "ground" but a constant process of visual adjustment in which space becomes an ambiguous mental construct rather than a familiar physical quality; colour produces flicker effects and is destabilised while scale, in works where nothing is certain, is perhaps the greatest conundrum as there is nothing to compare it with' (Margaret Garlake, Robyn Denny/Paintings/Collages/1954-1968, exh. cat., Jonathan Clark Fine Art, London, June 2007, unpaginated). This uncertainty, that Garlake notes is both conceptual as well as perceptual, is something that stems, perhaps, from their making. Denny wasn’t systematic, like his hard-edge counterparts on the Continent: instead the overall design of a painting would be worked out as he went along, the choice of colours made by ‘eye’, so that these sharp, Minimalist works have, at their basis, a painterly feel in their subtlety and modulation.
As with many of his contemporaries, Denny’s work was greeted with almost instant acclaim and international success. Within less than a decade of leaving college, Denny had shown at leading galleries in London, including Kasmin Ltd – at the time the cutting-edge space for contemporary abstract painting in the capital – and had also represented Britain at the 1966 Venice Biennale. In 1973, he became the youngest living artist to receive a full retrospective at the Tate. Out-Line 2 was included in this exhibition.
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