Neil Clements MRes Creative Practices, BA (hons) Fine Art

Job Title:

PhD Research Student


School of Fine Art



Abstract Art
Neil Clements

Abstract Art


Neil Clements

Transatlantic Drift: Popular Culture and Formalist Criticism in British Abstract Art, 1959–1968

Supervisors: Dr Alistair Payne, Professor Roger Wilson, Dr. Joy Sleeman (Slade School of Fine Art)

This research project addresses the relationship between popular culture and formalist criticism in British art of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and specifically traces how these two factors contributed jointly to abstract art made during this period. As such it is concerned with defining how particular artworks, while not explicitly depicting mass-cultural tropes, could still be demonstrated to embody them through other means. Opposing the binary separation of pop figuration and formalist abstraction prevalent in other scholarship dealing with the topic, what it instead describes is a scenario where formalist strategies of art-making themselves developed in ideological accord with a series of broader societal factors. These factors include the semantic economy underpinning the field of branded advertisement, semiological methods of linguistic analysis, and an image of ‘classless’ professionalism cultivated to combat the political Establishment.

As suggested by its title, this study involves a sustained examination of the influence exerted on British abstraction by American sources, and plays upon Norbert Lynton’s observation regarding the ‘Mid-Atlantic’ position many practitioners found themselves occupying stylistically. At the heart of such an enquiry however is an attempt to account in concrete terms for characteristics differentiating this artwork from that being produced elsewhere. Structured around three studies, looking at Richard Smith, New Generation Sculpture, and Jeremy Moon respectively, this subject is returned to from a number of viewpoints. Brought together these three strands combine to outline an autonomous and vital sensibility, one that is quite distinct from developments being made either in Continental Europe or the United States.