Alan Charlton

Victoria Miro Gallery/ICA

Everyone knows it is not easy being a “pure” abstract painter today. We are so accustomed to the idea of the death of the historical avant-garde that any practice that justifies itself in the name of a hermetic, reductive formalism is received with indifference. Our persistent appetite for the “new” is such that our self consciousness of the paradoxical and tragic dimensions of the historical avant-garde remains curiously underdeveloped.

Alan Charlton is a “pure” abstractionist, and as such, the historical potential for his painting seems, frankly, bleak. The formal possibilities of such a practice are all too transparent: the monochrome, the allover, the mise-en-abîme, and the grid are the only possible strategems such work can adopt. Of interest is the convoluted attitude that invariably accompanies a deep commitment to pure painting. The ironic adjustment to painting—exemplified by

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