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Terminal Greys

oil on canvas
122 x 20.5 cm each

Notes on this work

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If psychological classifications have any relevance then the apotheosis of anal retentiveness is reached in the series of Terminal Greys started in Wolverhamption in 1970. These, unlike the colour catalogues are still in enthusiastic production, albeit at their enforcedly ruminative pace.

Each week, on Saturday, the colours set out but not used up are mixed together. The resultant usually neutral and dreary-looking hue announces suddenly, when put in the context of its predecesors, its own richness and particularity. The first tall narrow canvas accommodated twenty one greys and this pleasant number has been adhered to ever since. On that first canvas the second grey called for a decision about format which I probably did not at the time realise would be a life sentence. I had been reading The Garden of Cyrus and had enjoyed the section on the Quincunx where Sir Thomas Browne indulges what he calls his 'Inexcusable Pythagorisme': I thought I would indulge mine too and make a cross which linked five points to stand at the top of the overall covering of grey. Browne promised me 'mysteries and secrets accomodable to this number', and he was right. As the crosses progress downwards with successive applications of paint so each grey comes into conjunction with up to seven others. Not for the first time a book lying open at random yielded wonders.

The first series of Terminal Greys was built from acrylics. My return to oil painting soon after made for denser, cumulative textures, thicker in summer (when paint clogs and dries on the palette) than in winter. Since, by the rules that grew out of the work, all the residual paint has to be used, the last layers (which only serve to cover a small part of the canvas) are often extremely thick: thus the gathering thickness of paint is compounded by the added thickness of each stratum. Any small lump or excrescence that occurs early on becomes (as in the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea) a sizeable nodule when covered with twenty coats of coagulating pigment.

Since I am now (as with 20 sites) only the functionary and artificer of the enterprise I feel free to express my pleasure at the result. The more panels that are seen together the more inevitable and right they look and the more the dross is seen to be transmuted into gold. Of all the things I have done I enjoy the contemplation of these the most.

Although this 'classic' format of Terminal Greys has persisted there have been other experiments and excursions alons the way, sometimes with miniature versions or longer compilations (Terminal Grey Arrangement etc.). Terminal Grey Boy demonstrates the survival of an image against severe odds in that it is done with the panel from a Painting by Numbers kit with each set of numbered areas successively being allotted a grey in strict series. More arduous were the three versions of a Terminal Grey Rainbow which involved agonies of indecision as each grey was applied to an estimated place on the spectrum.

Work and Texts (1992),  pp. 36-39.