Bruce Tippett was born in Boston (England) in 1933 and started drawing and painting very young. He studied at the Slade School, London, which he left in 1957.
Jane England writes in her 1992 catalogue. “That year he saw Japanese brush paintings for the first time at the British Museum (which now houses nine Tippett drawings). He recalls now that’ Something awoke in me and I entered another realm’. The works of the Japanese calligraphers inspired him by their mixture of spontaneity and contemplation. Like the Zen masters, Tippett achieved spontaneity by constantly paring down the image and concentrating on its essential spirit, with no sign of the struggle involved.
“When Tippett first saw a work by Hartung at Gimpel Fils in May 1958, he was struck by the similarities of their respective calligraphic styles. These similarities had different origins. In Tippett’s case the energetic strokes and lines came from his early drawings of reeds and stakes in marsh landscapes and the studies he had made of building structures, whereas Hartung’s expressive calligraphy came from his early experiments with automatism.”
Alan Bowness pointed out in his “Portrait of the Artist” (1958) that “having made the first steps on his own Tippett realized that the calligraphic paintings of Hartung pointed in the direction he wished to go (…) but by the of end of 1957 Tippett had reached something that was recognizably an original manner, and the drawings done then and at the beginning of this year have a remarkable ease and assurance.”
With his first exhibition, at Lord’s Gallery, London, just open, Tippett left for Paris on a French Government scholarship.
By the end of 1959 he had abandoned oil-colour. He began to roller and pour paint and to use experimental fabrics (both synthetic and natural) with liquid dye-type paints, advised by the Paris director of Dutch paint company Talens. He was inspired by underwater imagery after spending the summer in Ibiza and Formentera.
In 1961 elements of wood, plastic or cloth were added to the canvas, their presence making a dialectical alternative to the markedly unitary surface of the stained canvas.
Giorgio de Marchis, writing from Rome in “Art International” in 1965 described paintings done during the previous two years as “still showing on the raw canvas elements such as wood (strips) combined with colour areas, both reduced to their simplest expression. They are combined in symmetries which repeat isolated motifs in the search for an image in which they are readable in constructional context. The movement which animated the field of the previous canvases is here replaced by an investigation or measuring of space beyond the canvas itself. Those material elements which scan the canvas project solidly beyond the stretcher frame, making the canvas area itself an element of the construction.”
In later paintings “the colour field is organized in geometric figures or, better, in geometric sections inspired by the significance of mathematical or natural models which, like the spiral, have become archetypal. The canvas is almost always square… the shape determined by the colour area-often asymmetrical but always logically related to the framing edge- develops and continues in the rolling of the canvas itself along one of its edges.”
In 1965 Tippett went to New York for three months, leaving by freighter from the sea-port of Genoa. He took a crate of 6 large square paintings, one of which was selected by Dorothy Miller for The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Back in Italy Dino Gavina invited him to be artist-in-residence at his Foligno factory.
The artist made a series of free-standing slotted-wood pieces, using some of the considerable array of wood veneers available contrasted with areas of paint. He developed the ‘scroll’ paintings into rolled-plywood pieces to stand on the floor and lean against a wall. Tippett designed the “Renna” coatstand for Gavina. It was included in the 1972 Paris exhibition “Knoll au Louvre”.
At the Venice Bienniale in 1966 he had met Betty Parsons. She was to become his anchor during a decade of experimental work in New York. After Venice, she had visited Tippett’s studio in Rome and chose a number of ‘scroll’ top paintings for her gallery.
Meanwhile the artist, playing with card models of variably rolled-edge works, was looking for a material more pliable than the canvas and wood structures. He used rub er floor matting to conjure his first show in her gallery !
“By 1969 and his first one-man exhibition at the legendary Betty Parsons Gallery, New York Tippett’s radical work involved the use of fifty foot lengths of rubber matting with which the audience was obliged to interact. A statement by Parsons (from a radio broadcast in 1952) about what she looked for in her artists, suggests the quality and character that attracted her to Bruce Tippett’s work. ‘Each one of my painters is an individual. Once I have made my selection, I have complete trust in the artist’s creative work… What interests me solely is the fact that he is a free individual. I know that his freedom is the result of complete self-discipline.’ Tippett exhibited with Parsons until 1981, the year before she died.
Continuously inventive, during the seventies he worked with a spray gun, making grid-like paintings (…). Minimalism and control gave way to more organic forms, where the sprayed paint articulated the folds of fine cotton sheeting, and water, poured through the fabric, created ripples that echoed those created by wind in sand or on the ocean. This echo of organic and natural form continued in the work, with prolonged periods spent exclusively producing charcoal drawings – many of large scale. Evoking the simplified, gestural landscapes of Japanese brush paintings that had been so significant earlier in his career, Tippett returned to this medium and this theme again and again. The loosely landscape-inspired sense of form remains an important element in his contemporary drawings, whether in colour or black and white. His use of Japanese Okawara paper for a series of works that were the result of his travelling in Kenya and Egypt, led to that name being applied to a beautiful and lyrical series of screens – made at small, table-top, as well as room-divider, scale.
The eighties brought dramatic change, not only with the death of Betty Parsons, but also with his return to London to live and work. A partly peripatetic way of life emerged in the following decade, as he and his second wife and their daughter travelled – especially in India – and moved between the UK and France. New elements entered Tippett’s art, in particular an interest in the human – essentially female – form. Always simplified, always hovering on the edge of abstraction, he combined this with a continued preoccupation with painting as an independent activity, where the paint and the surface character of the canvas (how it absorbs and carries the pigment) were equal partners with the figurative elements.
In recent years, a new freedom and spontaneity has entered the artist’s painting. This has as much to do with changes in his personal life, as it has to do with his art. Since 2005 he has lived and worked in a studio at the heart of a small French community, which has embraced his presence within it.”
Lynne Green, from the essay in the catalogue Bruce Tippett,
paintings and drawings, Artco Gallery, Leeds, UK, 2008
Courtesy of the artist’s website.