British Abstract Painting in the Eighties

A one-day symposium

More Information

Symposium details

Date: 14th September 2018
Place: Herbert Museum and Art Gallery, Jordan Well, Coventry CV1 5QP
Convenors: Jill Journeaux, Matthew Macaulay, Graham Chorlton, Maggie Ayliffe, Jeff Dellow
Keynote address: David Ryan

Papers are invited for a one-day symposium intended to consider the development of abstract painting during the 1980s in the UK. This Symposium is co-hosted by the Visual Arts Research Group (Coventry University) and the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery.

The focus of this event is on developments in British Abstract painting in the 1980s and is intended as a reassessment of British painters who have creatively contributed to the development of abstraction regionally, nationally and internationally. The eighties saw a transformation that shifted notions of how we think about what is possible or credible to pursue within painting.

Some of the earliest surveys of contemporary painting in the nineteen eighties included the 1980 Hayward Annual (organised by Tim Hilton and John Hoyland) which tried to dedicate space for the appreciation of new British Abstract painting. In the spring of 1981 the exhibition ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ launched the revival of figurative art and traditional painting and introduced many of the trans-avantgarde. With the advent of a more pluralised approach to painting, abstraction through its diversification offered new explorations and territories.

The keynote speach will be presented by David Ryan. Ryan is a visual artist and writer also actively involved in contemporary music. He studied at Liverpool and Lanchester (Coventry) Polytechnics, and also on a travelling German Scholarship to Hamburg, Lubeck and Berlin. He is currently reader in Fine Art at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

He has written on contemporary art for various journals such as Art Monthly, Artpress (Paris), Artreview, Contemporary Visual Arts, Modern Painters, Art papers (USA), and on music for Tempo, and Dissonanz (Switzerland). He has written also on, and collaborated with, numerous artists, including individual essays on Shirley Kaneda, Bernard Frize, Katharina Grosse, Robert Holyhead, John Riddy, Clem Crosby, Fabian Marcaccio, and many others, and his book Talking Painting - dialogues with Contemporary Abstract Artists featured many prominent painters from the 1990s (Routledge 2002). He also contributed to the exhibition Territorios Abstractos (2000, UNAM, Mexico City), the Tate exhibition catalogue Hybrids (2001), and more recently, for the 2013 Tate/Paul Mellon Centre Contemporary Painting in Context. Exhibitions have included British Abstract Painting (2001 Flowers), Crossing Abstraction 1 (2009, Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Berlin), After Image, (2013 Emerson Gallery, Berlin) and Crossing Abstraction 2 (2012, Kunsthaus Erfurt and Forum Konkrete Kunst, Erfurt). He was featured in Making Matters (Gallery A, Middlesbrough 2015), and Detail at the Usher Gallery, Lincoln. In 2015 he curated a large-scale exhibition Drawing Towards Sound looking at the relationship between drawing and musical notation at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, and has also curated At the Point of Gesture (2013 Turps Gallery/ 2015 Wimbledon Space). Recent exhibitions have included June Mostra, (2016 British School at Rome) In Nomine Lucis (2017 Santa Maria Della Scala Museum, Siena), Ex-Roma, (2017 APT Gallery), Granular (2018 University of Greenwich) and Imagining Architecture (2018 IsdaT, Toulouse) co-curated with Benet Spencer. His work in music has been featured in numerous Festivals, including the Venice Biennale (2015) as well as numerous book chapters.

Abstracts and proposals for presentations at the Conference are now being invited. Themes include:

• New territories for Abstract Paintings.

• Abstraction and the Art Market and Arts Criticism.

• New narratives on British Abstract Painting in relation to developments globally.

• Emerging Abstract Artists.

• British studio groups and Abstract Painting.

• How Abstraction has been used and taught in British Art Schools: case studies, approaches, attitudes; The role of the painting project; How painters think through teaching.

• Abstract Painting and the Digital.

Papers are invited from artists, historians, educators and theoreticians. We welcome doctoral researchers who wish to present projects or research currently in hand. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of themes. If you have an idea for a paper that you would like to discuss please contact: Matthew Macaulay at

All proposals for papers will be peer reviewed. Please submit a proposal of up to 500-750 words outlining your paper/ presentation, including 6 keywords and a title. Include your name and address, email address and institutional affiliation if appropriate to Matthew Macaulay: A digital publication will be produced from the event and other publication avenues are currently being sought.

The Symposium is timed to offer an opportunity for visitors to explore the exhibition of Abstract Painting in the Eighties in the Lanchester Research Gallery, and an exhibition of New Works by David Ryan at Class Room.

Please include your name, title, email address, institution and title of the proposed presentation. Deadline: 30 of April 2018

Cost: £30 for institutionally affiliated attendees, £20 for doctoral students and independent artists. This will cover refreshments and a buffet for the lunchtime networking event.


Feel free to get in touch if you wish to clarify or ask any other questions. Contact Matthew Macaulay at either:

Graham Sutherland Building
Coventry University
Cox St, Coventry CV1 5PH