Robyn Denny

Biography of Robyn Denny

The arresting geometric abstractions of painter Robyn Denny perfectly capture the hectic, modernizing zeal of the 1950s and 1960s. Denny was not only the youngest ever artist to be awarded a retrospective at the Tate but even represented Britain at the 1966 Venice Biennale. His pioneering hard-edged paintings were more reminiscent of the then in vogue American Abstract Expressionism than the quainter British version. He was instrumental in pushing contemporary British art into an embrace of more radical mid-20th century art movements and rebelled against the pastoral landscapes of the St Ives School.


Robyn Denny was born in Surrey in 1930 and was the son of a clergyman. Rebellious and precocious as a child he scandalized his father’s parish by painting segments of the church behind the altar in brilliant primary colors. Denny studied at the St Martin’s School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art before briefly living in Paris.


Soon after his return to London Robyn Denny began to make his presence known with a series of monumental canvases that demonstrated the broad gestures and bold marks of the Abstract Expressionists. In the late sixties however Denny began to experiment with a broader color palette that saw a move from the dark textures of his earlier work to brighter and more vibrant tones. This change precipitated a move to Los Angeles in 1981, although he would return to London five years later. His characteristic use of juxtaposed color produced “flicker”; effects that made spaces and forms come across as unstable, requiring constant adjustment in perspective on the part of the viewer.


To date the Tate’s collection of Robyn Denny’s work numbers over 80 pieces, and his work is featured in all major collections around the world including The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Denny died in 2014 and is fondly remembered for his series of enamel panels at Embankment underground station in London. In 1993 Denny featured prominently in the Barbican’s exhibition “The Sixties Art Scene in London”, which helped kick-start a re-evaluation of his work and a revival in popularity that continues to grow.

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