Philip Vaughan successfully uses minimalism within his practice. One of his pieces, Normandie Fields, is a careful composition of space and colour which explores the theme of natural phenomena. Vaughan uses abstract, geometric shapes with a variety of lively, neon colours to explore the life and vitality of plant and tree biology, a subject which inspires much of his work.
We also have work by the critically acclaimed Fintan Whelan. Whelan’s intense yet tranquil monochromatic pieces are at once peaceful and animated. While ARS Anima, for example, calms onlookers with its soothing blue tones and swirling brushstrokes, the meandering whirls and ripples create a sense of movement and transformation too.
Minimalist art rose to prominence during the 1960s. The minimalist art style was popular in post-World War II Western art and was largely a movement made in opposition to art which had become too academic, or rather, too confined by conventional, contemporary standards. Minimalist art endeavoured to remove the limitations imposed on artistic expression by existing structures in the art world. Minimalist artists identified with a need to dismantle an increasingly commercialised art world where art was reserved only for a specific elite who could ‘afford’ or ‘understand’ art.
Minimalist art is often associated with Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual Art, two movements which also sought to question conventional art. However, minimalist art chose to do so in a way that avoided any overt or extreme symbolism - a common characteristic of Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual Art. Instead, minimalist artists chose cool, collected and minimal designs to draw attention to the materiality of their work, rather than the idea or meaning behind it.
The minimalist movement was also influenced by late Russian Constructivism, a style which involved immense technical analysis. Inspired by their ethic of ‘the truth of materials’, constructivism was less about eliciting an emotional response from the viewer and more about the actual properties and behaviours of the materials used.
To endorse these stylistic principles, minimalist artworks present a range of modular, geometric designs and, in many cases, prefabricated materials. One of the most common properties of minimalist art is the use of repetition, especially of the square or rectangle. More often than not, minimalist paintings tend to be very bare and monochromatic with a greater emphasis on the spaces between lines or shapes rather than on the figures or images themselves. In a way, minimalist art has an incredibly purified aesthetic, where order, simplicity and harmony are prioritised over dissonance, movement and craft.
The purpose of minimalist art was to prove that art has its own reality and therefore does not have to imitate or represent another thing or idea - hence the emphasis on construction and form, rather than meaning or message. To qualify this, pioneering minimalist painter Frank Stella once famously said of his paintings: ‘what you see is what you see’. This statement affirms the frank, impersonal nature of the work while simultaneously implying the infinite subjectivity of art, inferring that each person will see what they see.
Carl Andre was a key figure in defining the nature of minimalist art. Andre referred to himself as a ‘matterist’; his work predominantly plays with the construction and placement of pre-fabricated matter. He balances blocks, bricks and plates together with no fixative to hold them in place. Andre would also display his work on the floor rather than on plinths to explore the relationship between art and its environment. Equivalent VIII, for example, is an assembly of 120 firebricks displayed as part and parcel of its surrounding space. The substance of Andres art is not the final product, but rather the process of selection and arrangement of these units as a sculpture.
Donald Judd was another influential minimalist sculptor. Judd, inspired by his Bauhaus predecessors who favoured a cool, sparse aesthetic, distanced himself from any overly emotional or expressive artwork. Like Andre, Judd’s pieces rejected any form of hierarchy between space and material, instead showing a symbiotic relationship between the two through the repetition and harmonious alignment of units (combining painting, sculpture and architecture). Many of Judd’s pieces went untitled to emphasise this democratic union between piece and place.
Agnes Martin, though she considered herself an abstract artist, demonstrated many minimalist attributes in her work. Martin’s discrete and introverted style is riddled with enduring minimalistic motifs of balance, harmony and purity. Her pieces, such as Happy Holiday, are studies in the pursuit of perfection. Martin called on onlookers to quietly reflect on what beauty means to them, recalling Frank Stella’s minimalist philosophy that observers will simply see what they see.