Bishop left the United States for Europe in 1957, at a time when the influence of Abstract Expressionism was at its height in New York.
When I first started to work in Paris  I still had something of the 'true believer' feeling I had had as a student which was that with Abstract Expressionism painters had at last begun simply to paint, at least in a certain way … I think of myself as somebody who tried to go on from Motherwell (who was the painter I loved most as a student) and later on Newman, Rothko and Reinhardt. Since they are inimitable, I had to find something to do myself. I don't know if I would have tried to combine them if I had been in New York, but in my own relative isolation in Paris it seemed to fit my own feelings. I think today I am an Abstract Expressionist of the quieter branch.1
Ad Reinhardt (1913-67) in particular, may have influenced the kind of 'veiled' geometric division of the canvas which Bishop adopted in 1968, in which the canvas, a perfect square, is divided exactly in the middle, the lower half remaining empty, the top half occupied by two squares, which are in turn bisected horizontally and vertically. However, Bishop's technique for creating his geometric format is paradoxical, and harks back to the more spontaneous painterly technique of Abstract Expressionism. After putting down pencil guidelines, Bishop 'pours' his geometric design, without the aid of tape or ruler. The blue' frames' in the Gallery's painting were poured in this way and then the whole painting was washed with white oil paint, diluted to the point of transparency, but growing more evenly opaque in the top left and top right-hand corners of the canvas:
After putting down pencilled guidelines, I put the stretched canvas on the floor, fill in an area with very liquid paint, and the, by picking up one edge of the canvas and then another, let the paint roll around until there is more in one part of that area than another, and consequently more, or less, of the undercoat showing through, this according to the idea I have of how the different sections of the painting should work together.2
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.388.
- 'The '60s in Abstract: 13 Statements and an Essay', Art in America, vol. 71, no. 9, October 1983, pp.122-37, cf. p.134.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010