A table-top composition, July 1960 (green and black) perfectly exemplifies Nicholson’s project to take this most traditional of genres and make it distinctively his own and unabashedly avant-garde. July 1960 (green and black) is simultaneously sparse but detailed and rich in texture, rigidly formal whilst remaining decorative and sensuous. Nicholson’s multitude of artistic concerns are synthesised into a work of restraint and bravura. The colour Nicholson uses is translucent – as A.M. Hammacher wrote in 1966, ‘His colour is wraith-like, filmy and unsubstantial, like a glimpse of light on the threshold of a new-born world. No bright reds or bright yellows, no bright blues here. His colours are either on the verge of brightness or caught in the act of disappearing.’ (A.M. Hammacher, ‘The Recent Ben Nicholson’ in Ben Nicholson Recent Work, exh. cat. Galerie Gimpel & Hanover, 1966, unpaginated). Minute modulations of colour unfold across the composition, as white turns into cream, cream to grey, grey to brown, enlivened by the assured strokes that constitute the dense black contours outlining the table and objects, with the gloriously voluptuous curl of a handle that curves through the centre of the piece. Whilst at first glance the work seems austere, A.M. Hammacher summarised the lushness unfolding upon sustained attention to the composition: ‘In my imagination I see before me a violinist, the arm, the wrist, the fingers, all trained to perfection, producing the graceful lines of an invisible music.’ (A.M. Hammacher, ibid).
With muted colours, the texture of the surface of the work takes prominence and the very process of the making of July 1960 (green and black) is written into the final painting. The grain of the support is visible and integral to the overall effect with Nicholson rubbing thin layers of oil paint into the canvas and board and then scrapping away to create a work of immense tonal depth and tactile appeal.
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