John Golding, an Englishman raised in Mexico, began his creative career influenced by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco, reflecting Orozco's dark colorations and somber figurative works. Gradually Golding veered toward abstracting his figures. By the mid-'60s, he left figurative art and monochromatic palettes behind altogether.
An exhibit of Golding's paintings, now on view at Yale Center for British Art, is an intriguing glimpse into the evolution of an artist as he finds himself and his style, bit by bit, from representational to abstract, from dark monochromatics to muted hues to bold hues, from sharp lines to blurred lines to explosions of white amid shockingly bright clouds of color.
Golding was best known as an educator, critic and art historian. After he died in 2012, 34 of his works were donated to YCBA. The exhibit, part of a larger exhibit of recent gifts and acquisitions, is 19 paintings, meant to give a broad overview of the career of the artist.
"He started out with hard-edge abstraction, then moved to edges that start to feather," said Scott Wilcox, deputy director for collections. "Then blocks of color become vertical strips of color. Then the strips shift and bend and become what he called 'pleats of light.' Then they become flares of light. Verticality has broken up into floating areas of color, with rays going in all directions."
As Golding himself described it, "The relationship of the bands to the shapes became more complicated. Bands began getting into the shapes, animating and modifying them. As a result of this I sensed how I could get more light into the pictures."
The vivid array of Goldings are the splashy center of the large "Gifts and Acquisitions" show, which commemorates the 40th anniversary of the founding of YCBA. Other focuses of the show include late gifts from Paul Mellon, who founded the museum; the history of photography, from early "camera lucida" artworks to the Swinging '60s; a spotlight on the art of the British in India, including a bust of Queen Victoria's friend Abdul Karim, the subject of an upcoming historical film; two delicate and impressively lifelike pastel portraits by Archibald Skirving; and artworks inspired by military conflicts from the Napoleonic wars to World War II, including examples of work by World War I "soldier poets" and a drawing by John Singer Sargent of doughboys felled by mustard gas.
The "Instruction with Delight" segment of the exhibit was inspired by philosopher John Locke, who influenced British parents to increase the enjoyability of their children's instructional activities, to make learning fun rather than something to dread. As he once wrote, "I have always had a fancy, that learning might be made a play and recreation to children."
A sweet display of children's items show how that was done: games involving maps and letters, cute little books of instructional stories, watercolor sets, a box for storing items collected from animals, vegetables and minerals. Apropos to Locke's fame as the "blank slate" philosopher, the exhibit also includes a couple of blank slates.
At the same time upper-class children were discovering that education could be a game, children of the lower classes lived lives of drudgery. A few items in the exhibit show the bleak landscape of their lives: a document laying out the terms of the indentured servitude of a 7-year-old girl and illustrations of dour working children.
A DECADE OF GIFTS AND ACQUISITIONS is at Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel St. in New Haven, until Aug. 13. A documentary, "John Golding Painter: A Path to the Absolute" will be shown at the museum on June 16, July 7, July 21 and Aug. 11 at 11:30 a.m. britishart.yale.edu.