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Ralph HUMPHREY

United States of America 1932 – 1990

Untitled 1974 paintings, synthetic polymer paint on shaped canvas
Technique: synthetic polymer paint on shaped canvas
Primary Insc: signed and dated verso u.r., fibre-tipped pen, "HUMPHREY / '74"
165.0 h x 156.7 w x 16.6 d cm
Purchased 1974
Accession No: NGA 75.665

Provenance:
  • the artist;
  • from whom bought through Bykert Gallery, New York, by the Interim Council of the Australian National Gallery, November 1974
  • Untitled 1974 is a painting that confronts the spectator by physically projecting forward into the gallery space. It draws attention both to its status as a physical object and its relationship to the spectator through time. As the artist has stated: 'I'm interested in the observer looking and being aware of himself and the work and how he relates to it.'

    At the time of painting Untitled, Humphrey has considered the prospective temporal relationship of a spectator to the painting on the wall. The bevelled edge on the left-hand side of the painting only becomes visible at a particular viewing angle as the spectator moves around the work from right to left. From a frontal viewpoint this bevelled edge exaggerates the three-dimensional nature of the work by creating an illusionary perspective that withdraws from the picture surface and accentuates the perception of the painting's volume or weightiness.

    The frame motif, which Humphrey explored in his important series of the mid-1960s, can be seen as a precursor to the collaged frame in Untitled. A 'frame' suggests the act of looking into or peering through, yet the physical and perceptual projection of the work towards the spectator defiantly negates these conventional expectations. As a reviewer observed of Humphrey's exhibition at the John Weber Gallery in 1976:

    [These] objects are more like walled-up windows which confront the spectator with the imperatives of actual and present space, with an emergency of immediacy in which what might have been seen as opposites, like painting and sculpture, are seen to have the mutual implications and coincident identities of sculptured paintings and painted sculptures.

    Steven Tonkin

    1. Ralph Humphrey, 'Ralph Humphrey: Statement', Arts Magazine, vol.49 no.6, February 1975, p.56
    2. William S. Wilson, 'Ralph Humphrey', Arts Magazine, vol.50 no.6, February 1976, p.5, from a review of the artist's exhibition at the John Weber Gallery, New York, 31 January - 25 February 1976
    DW

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010