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North East born artist comes back to the region for his latest exhibition at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

15 February 2016

One of Britain’s most respected painters is to return to his roots with a new exhibition at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima).

Although less recognised by the public, Teesside-born Basil Beattie is well known among artists and taught many of today’s prominent names during his three decades tenure at Goldsmiths, University of London.

This new exhibition is a retrospective of his work since the 1980s and encapsulates much of the 81-year-old’s distinguished career. When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades opens on Saturday 20 February.

Beattie has been addressing the legacy of abstract expressionism since the beginning of his career. But his take on this art movement is a personal one, in which references to the Western pictorial tradition and everyday life are combined through an existential approach.

The exhibition features works that explore iconographies that associate the grid structure, typical of modernism, with ‘primitive’ motifs, or focus on architectural elements such as ziggurats, steps, ladders, and tunnels. The pieces encapsulate a spiritual engagement with the world: feelings of imprisonment and freedom, time and space, life and death or belonging and displacement emerge from them.

Basil Beattie said: “The works speak of human qualities of being – emotional and psychological. Signs and metaphors play a part in them, but it is the way the images are formed that is crucial in bringing them to a visual point of memorable potency.

“I’m expecting surprises in terms of juxtapositions, because there will be combinations of paintings that I won’t have seen before and it’s interesting to play around with that opportunity. I’m looking forward to the show in terms of learning more about what I’ve been doing. If it gives any value to anybody it will be value to me.”

Director Alistair Hudson said: “We are committed to presenting a range of diverse practices in contemporary art and what better example of this is there than an artist who started in our region. Beattie’s works are not only illustrative of a prominent career; they are truly influential to the new generations of British artists, many of whom were his students.”

Senior Curator Miguel Amado said: “Beattie’s paintings and drawings bring together a sensuous and bodily commitment to paint and the canvas, based on gestural brush strokes and fields of colour, with the depiction of symbols that denote a metaphorical relationship with the real. In that, Beattie is very much aligned with current pictorial trends, making his a fresh perspective in the field.”

Beattie attended the West Hartlepool College of Art from 1950 to 1955 before forming part of a group of British artists whose practice was informed by abstract expressionism, a movement that flourished in the United States of America during the late 1940s and 1950s. He went on to have a long teaching career from the 1960s to 1990s, most notably at Goldsmiths, University of London, before retiring from this role is 1998.

He was shortlisted for the Jerwood Painting Prize in both 1998 and 2001, in addition to the Charles Wollaston Prize in 2000. His works have been exhibited both nationally and internationally and are part of various public and private collections, among which the Tate, the Arts Council, Saatchi and Jerwood.

When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades runs from Saturday 20 February until Sunday 12 June 2016. Public opening takes place between 12.00pm – 4.30pm on Saturday 20 February 2016, and includes a conversation between Beattie and art critic Mel Gooding. Find out more about the exhibition.


Basil Beattie Ascent 2012 Oil and wax on canvas 244 x 366 cm (002)

Basil Beattie Ascent 2012 Oil and wax on canvas 244 x 366 cm


Basil Beattie, artist, mima, London

Basil Beattie in his studio in London



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