Matter painting 1962 signed and dated 'R Balson 62' lower right enamel on board 140.0 x 70.0cm (55 1/8 x 27 9/16in).
PROVENANCE The collection of the artist Estate of the artist Bloomfield Galleries, Sydney The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1989
EXHIBITED Ralph Balson: Exhibition of Paintings, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 315 July 1963, cat. no. 10, titled Painting No. 10 Paintings by the Late Ralph Balson 1960-64: The third and final Memorial Exhibition, Gallery A, Sydney, 27 May 14 June 1969, cat. no. 31 Ralph Balson: Matter Paintings, Bloomfield Galleries, Sydney, 8 June 2 July 1988, cat. no. 10
"I try to find out what the substance of paint will give me, to make a Painting a Matter Painting" (Ralph Balson, letter to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, quoted in Bruce Adam's exhibition catalogue, 'Ralph Balson, A Retrospective', Heide, 1989, p. 39)
In the final five years of his life, commencing in 1959, Ralph Balson took a leap of faith embarking on a mysterious series of works called the 'Matter Paintings'. Throughout his career Balson single-mindedly explored artistic styles and methods such as Cubism, Constructivism and Non-Objective Abstraction. Each phase represented a distinct departure from the previous approach and this attitude characterised Balson's inventiveness as well as his ceaseless quest for experimentation.
Matter painting 1962 is the embodiment of Balson's restless spirit and draws together a unique combination of material processes and philosophical ideals within a single work. Produced using gloss enamel house paint on the textured reverse side of a large section of masonite, this vertical painting departs from most of the other 'Matter Paintings' that tend to be painted on the smooth side of the composition board and conceived in a horizontal format. The technique Balson uses is also unique. Unlike many of the other 'Matter Paintings' that consist exclusively of coagulated pools of poured paint, this work combines pouring and trailing, thus providing the painting's surface with an unusual combination of spontaneity and mediation.
Philosophically the 'Matter Paintings' draw upon Balson's speculative interests in science and space travel providing a visual representation of what he referred to as 'the ineffable'. Like an alchemist he had the ability to convert the physical substance of paint into a personal vision of human existence. By combining the transcendental with more mundane concerns such as personal expression, and through the use of domestic materials such as house paint and masonite Balson's 'Matter Paintings' bring together what he called 'universal and timeless values' with more immediate everyday concerns. While the texture of the painting creates a sense of solidity and objecthood, the earthy pink and cream hues of the enamel paint are redolent of a multitude of 1950s domestic interiors.
Historically this work is also unique in that it draws upon a number of contemporary artistic styles from Europe and the United States. In 1960 Balson travelled to New York, England and France putting him in direct contact with new and innovative styles of post-war painting. To say this painting is exclusively an example of Abstract Expressionism or Action Painting would be wrong and equally to say it is an example of European Tachisme would also be incorrect as it draws upon both the frenetic gestures of the American approach as well as a more highly considered process of textural layering common to European painting of the time. Matter painting 1962 brings together the best of both styles while drawing upon a life-time of creative expression. In the world of international art this particularly special 'Matter Painting' represents a highly personalised contribution to the broader genre of Gestural Abstraction and Balson's uncompromising attitude, vitality and quest for innovation enabled him to create this fountain of energy as his penultimate work.