Harrow on the Hill artist Desmond Rayner talks to Rosy Moorhead about taking part in New Possibilities, an exhibition at the Piper Gallery in Soho for older artists

Times Series: Double Crossed, 1979, by Desmond Rayner Double Crossed, 1979, by Desmond Rayner

Many of the visual art works made during the 1970s found themselves neglected as attention focused on the rise of conceptual and performance art.

In a new exhibition, The Piper Gallery in Soho demonstrates that, even as modernist certainties were challenged, new possibilities in abstract art continued to emerge.

New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies presents works by 14 artists from that era.

The Piper Gallery is dedicated to showcasing the work of contemporary artists whose careers have spanned 40 years or more, both to present them to a new generation and to demonstrate their life-long commitment to their practice and the continuing dynamism of their recent work.

Harrow on the Hill artist Desmond Rayner is one of those exhibiting.

“The whole concept of the gallery is to represent people like me who’ve been slogging away for more than 40 years and who are still unsung,“ says the 84-year-old. “We’ve all got our bus passes!

New Possibilities is a revival of something that’s been lost – our work from that time. It’s a very bold move.“ The exhibition is a demonstration of the eclecticism that emerged from 1970s abstraction. The pieces on show were made by artists at different stages of their careers, using a wide range of techniques.

Desmond will be showing a series of his total geometric abstracts. “They don’t mean anything,“ he says decisively, “they’re purely there for entertainment. There’s too much spoken about the hidden meaning of this and the hidden meaning of that – I just want to represent colour, shape, form and pattern.“

A lot of Desmond’s work is based on art deco motifs, such as the classic fan shape, and he fills sketchbooks up with shapes and patterns until he has, as he describes it, the ‘right concept’, when he transfers his sketches on to the finished image.

He paints in gouache, a type of paint consisting of pigment and a binding agent such as gum Arabic that is similar to watercolour but modified to be opaque.

Colour is vitally important to his work. “I always mix all my own colours,“ says Desmond, who only took up art full-time on his retirement but who had studied at St Martin’s School of Art. “They might look like any other colours but you won’t find them anywhere else. The colours in the tube don’t go far enough, as far as I’m concerned.“

  • New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies is at the Piper Gallery, Newman Street, Soho from Friday, November 16 to Friday, December 21 during opening hours, Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 6pm. Details: 020 7148 0350, www.thepipergallery.com

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