Towards Abstraction

Changing the Process of Painting Series

April 8, 2021

Between 1943 and 1949 Victor Pasmore was teaching at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, and it is in this period that his paintings underwent a significant transition – embracing the abstract. In an interview with Leif Sjoberg published in 1960, Pasmore says: "I found that all attempts to extend the boundaries of Impressionism along Cubist or Fauvist representational lines, led to a breakdown in rational technique and rational interpretation. The only field which appeared open to rational development was in terms of purely abstract form."

One of the main influences at this stage of his artistic process was Paul Klee. Like Klee, Pasmore began by working with basic shapes of colour – squares, triangles, rectangles – arranged in different formats. It is at this time that Pasmore also experimented with compositional collages, where geometric shapes were combined with board, printed paper and so forth. It is interesting to note that from this point on, Pasmore would never return to figurative or realistic painting, but he would continue to search for new forms of expression found only in abstraction.  

Paul Klee immediately springs to mind when looking at this painting, as does Ben Nicholson who Pasmore actually met. One can also detect echoes of Mark Rothko and Piet Mondrian, both of whom worked tirelessly with the square. The painting is divided into three bands – the most complex one being the central strip. Here simple shapes are either placed next to each other or on one another, yet there are also shapes fitting into each other, making us aware of the idea of construction – the next phase of Pasmore’s art that he would develop into three dimensional artworks and beyond that, into architecture. The upper band is dedicated to the eclipse – a simple ring of red covered by a black circle. Around the sun are light, delicate spirals that contrast with the heavy geometric shapes below. Around this time Pasmore painted a number of works entirely composed of spirals, and it is a motif he continued to use throughout his artistic career.


Square Motif Blue and Gold – The Eclipse, 1950, Oil on canvas, Tate Modern Collection