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.
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
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
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."