Untitled 1979 and Untitled 1980 are from a significant body of small paintings undertaken by the artist in the late 1970s. At the time the British art critic John McEwen outlined that:
Currently the smallness of his working space and desire to limit external reference, stylistic or otherwise, in order to make the painting as much of a self-contained object as possible, [have] led to a stark reduction in scale.
Whilst not individually as significant as a major work like Java 1980, when paired together Untitled 1979 and Untitled 1980 exhibit many of the features that drew critical attention to the artist's work in the 1970s. Buckley was widely recognised for his almost sculptural attitude to painting, especially his eclectic use of materials and techniques of construction.
Untitled 1980 is composed from a series of thin squares of composition board stapled together in a process of accretion. The viewer's understanding of the painting's fabrication and resultant structure is then confounded by the placement of a single floating decorative 'visual' panel. Untitled 1979, on the other hand, is deliberately deceptive from a frontal or traditional viewpoint. It is only by moving to the side of the painting, an unconventional viewing angle, that the depth of the work becomes evident. It is the painted edges that are crucial, defining and separating the planes as well as visually forcing the white frontal surfaces of the painting forward from the gallery wall.
The acquisition of the artist's two small untitled paintings in 1981 expanded the National Gallery's representation of internationally-recognised British painters, which includes among others, Buckley's contemporaries Howard Hodgkin, with The Buckleys at Brede 1974-76 and John Walker's Study for Luke's blue 1976.
- John McEwen, 'Four British painters', Artforum, vol.17 no.4, December 1978, pp.50-55; the four painters discussed were John Hoyland, John Walker, Stephen Buckley and Howard Hodgkin.
- Tate, London
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010