William Gear and Abstract Expressionism at auction

McTear’s sees all shapes, sizes, schools and styles of paintings come through its doors on a daily basis; one will often see a small-scale Scottish school watercolour hanging alongside a photo-realistic Gerard Burns portrait, which contributes to the magic of the auction gallery.
June’s The Scottish Pictures Auction and The Scottish Contemporary Art Auction saw a selection of rural watercolours and ornithological oil studies flourish, and a triumphant hammer price was achieved for the "The Accordionist" by John Bellany (lot 1781).
The Scottish Contemporary Art Auction on Sunday 27th July brings two Abstract Expressionist works to the market. While most people are well acquainted with the works of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko (the undisputed figureheads of the Abstract Expressionist movement), there were many artists out with the American effort who made their own mark on the movement and helped to bring the style to the United Kingdom. Fife born painter William Gear is just one of these British Expressionists and one can find his works featured in many galleries and auctions across the world, including in the Tate Modern’s collection.
One might be forgiven, after seeing his paintings, for assuming William Gear was not from Scotland's own Fife due to the raw Abstract Expressionist feel it evokes, which is more commonly associated with post-war America. Two paintings by Gear feature in Sunday’s auction, entitled Red/Black Procession (lot 1721) and No 6 (lot 1720).
William Gear started his career in painting at the Edinburgh School of art during the 1920s, then went on to study under Ferdinand Leger in Paris. Leger's tutelage can clearly be drawn from within lot 1721. Red/Black Procession is an abstract painting and the widely applied, oblong brushstrokes reflect the Cubist movement and style in which Leger was famously involved. Gear served in the Middle East during the war years but unlike many male artists of his generation, his artistic output did not halt with the war; he worked in Monuments and Fine Arts in Germany from 1945. Subsequently, Gear was a prominent member of the Cobra group in Paris and went on to receive the Leporello Prize from the government of Lower Saxony, who described his work as ‘democratic art’ embodying ‘artistic freedom’, a high accolade indeed!
Like many Expressionists, the war experience and the changing socio-political attitudes of the 1960’s from which this painting belongs, directly influenced Gear’s work, often resulting in a use of violently applied brushstrokes and bold, primary colours that have echoes of the haunted and challenged sense of masculinity lost to the horrors of war.
Red/Black Procession, from 1961, particularly stands out with its bold reds and blacks on a flat white background which is wholly reminiscent of a Rorschach test. Rorschach is typically used in psychotherapy (very apt when discussing Expressionism) yet the liberal use of the colour red creates a blood like effect. The similarities found in this painting to a Rorschach test take on a whole new meaning when one imagines the ‘procession’ of the firing line during war and the bloody designs left behind on the wall after a bullet was fired. The red and black paint, arguably the angrier tones of the spectrum, are the focal point of the painting but at closer inspection one notices the faint blue and yellow sponged paint peeping through. The Pictures Department interprets this as a glimmer of hope emerging from the initial confusion of the painting. This painting is both raw and lyrical in its effect, creating a very intriguing juxtaposition of emotion and certainly adds variety to The Scottish Contemporary Art Auction with its original and abstract style. It is a piece for personal interpretation and certainly, hung on the backdrop of a white wall, would be an instant conversation starter.
Gear is not the only Abstract Expressionist painter in this Auction Events Week. In The British & international Pictures Auction on Thursday there is a wonderful, orange fiery oil painting by Allan Leepa (lot 1464) of a similar style which evokes a wholly different set of emotions. The magic of Abstract Expressionism lies in its ability to inspire deep thought and emotion using the simplest of techniques, the most primary of colours and the most, basic, gestural brushstrokes. It is undeniably one of the most thematically complicated of the least technically complicated movement in art and both Gear paintings are a fabulous example of the British Abstract Expressionist canon.


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