Alan Uglow (1941–2011)

by Saul Ostrow

Alan Uglow, Easy Access, 1990.

I love how some artists are often, in terms of personality and taste, at odds with their work. This was true of the British-American abstract artist Alan Uglow. He was passionate, volatile, demanding, and gruff—all piss and vinegar, in other words—and tough as nails. A rocker and fighter to the end. On the other hand, his work was slow, subtle, restrained, and understated. In this, his paintings were aesthetically, and conceptually, similar to his other great love: soccer. Like any great striker, Uglow demonstrated in his work a single-minded tenacity, stamina, and perseverance. He was a doggedly political individual—radically democratic and nihilistically anticapital—yet his work is minimal, abstract, and intellectual, eschewing all that one would associate with militant political views. But if we are truly to understand the politics of a man such as Uglow, his vision of how things should be is to be found in the sensuous restraint and eccentricities of his work, which emphasized touch, perception, and embodied experience. As such, his works articulate the essential and qualitative in opposition to the advantageous and quantifiable, which are encompassed by the extraneous and banal. By these means, his works symbolically take up the struggle for self-identity, self-consciousness, and subjecthood.

On first coming upon one of Uglow’s paintings you might think it mechanical in its execution and reductive in concept. Yet slowly, and for most too slowly, you would come to discover the fusing of reason and passion in their human scale and the asymmetrical composition, their delicately constructed surfaces, and the density of their color. Exploiting the concreteness of abstract painting, Uglow utilized a vocabulary of shifting scales and refined visual effects to articulate a specificity and a sense of presence, rather than a transcendent otherworldliness. Uglow’s work (and life) represent a form of dissent from those instrumental and institutional logics that would standardize everything, and there lies their significance. These are not the works of an artist who by any means might be considered cool, or logically cold; they are the works of someone who sought to bring to his audience the small, highly considered pleasures of body, vision, and touch in an age of impersonal spectacle.


Saul Ostrow

BOMB 116
Summer 2011
The cover of BOMB 116