Seeking an English equivalent for peinture relative, Glarner settled on the term 'relational painting' towards the end of 1946, which he applied retrospectively to some of his earlier paintings and all his subsequent works. It was a term that suited the kind of abstract painting he pursued, focused on relating geometric shapes and ground through colour in ways which would make shape and ground alternate to produce what he called 'pumping planes'. While acknowledging the influence of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), with whom he was closely associated in New York, Glarner replaced the balancing of horizontality and verticality achieved in Mondrian's painting with interlocking rectangles and wedges that expand out towards the edges of the canvas.
Glarner painted his first tondo in the early 1940s. 'However', he later explained, 'it was naturalistic because it could be a sun, a moon, or any symbol because it was concentric and therefore the space around it was undetermined'.1 In tondo no. 3 (Collection Lucie Glarner, Locarno), painted in 1945, Glarner sought to overcome this figurative ambiguity by dividing the interior of the tondo into a series of angles, successively reiterated towards the edge of the canvas and, by implication, shaping the space beyond the circumference. 'In painting', Glarner said, 'form has to lose its specific identity and space has to acquire one by determination'.2 Refined in the Gallery's tondo, no. 4, painted the following year, this became the basis format for over sixty tondo variations painted in the United States.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.246.
- Dore Ashton, 'Fritz Glarner', Art International, vol. 7, no. 1, January 1963, pp.48-55, p.51.
- 'What Abstract Art Means to Me'; Glarner's response to a symposium held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on 5 February 1951, and reprinted in the Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, vol. 18, no. 3, Spring 1951, pp.10-11.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010