Diaspora-Artists logo

1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Group show at Commonwealth Institute. 1963
Date: 19 September, 1963 until 13 October, 1963
Organiser: Commonwealth Institute

The 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art was an innovative exhibition held at the Commonwealth Institute, London. The exhibition’s dates were 19 September - 13 October 1963. The exhibition featured a number of artists from Commonwealth countries, many of whom had settled in Britain over the course of the preceding decade or so. For example, Aubrey Williams had been resident in England since 1954, Ashu Roy had lived in London since 1951, Viren Sahai had lived in London since 1954, Kamil Khan had lived in London since 1957, and Ahmed Parvez had lived in London since 1955. There were contributions from artists such as John Drawbridge, from New Zealand, James Boswell, also from New Zealand, and Bill Featherston, from Canada. The exhibition clearly demonstrated the extent to which abstract art had been  embraced, championed and pioneered by artists from all over the world, including countries of the Commonwealth. The exhibition was supplemented by contributions from “well and lesser-known artists from the United Kingdom” including Frank Avray Wilson, Peter Lanyon, Denis Bowen and Victor Pasmore.

The slim accompanying catalogue had the following text, on its back cover: “The aims of the Commonwealth Biennale are to bring to public attention the work of Commonwealth abstract artists living and working in the United Kingdom, to define the part played by them in the development of painting and sculpture in this country, and to draw to the attention of various Commonwealth countries the achievement of their nationals.

The grouping of the Exhibition is not intended to convey a specific trend in abstract art, but is rather a cross section of significant development in avant-garde work in the United Kingdom.

The Commonwealth Biennale will bring these aims into effect by means of exhibitions at two yearly intervals organised by the artists themselves and with the co-operation of the Commonwealth Institute, and by means of touring exhibitions of selected work in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.”

In his Foreword/Introduction, Charles Spencer wrote, “This exhibition, it will immediately be seen, is restricted to abstract painting. This in itself imposes and presents certain significant suggestions. On one level it establishes the fact that artists from 10 different countries, from widely different cultural backgrounds, and, needless to say, of different religious and racial origins, share a common technical and aesthetic language. Whatever has provoked them to express themselves in visual terms, and whatever philosophical or spiritual comment they wish to make, they have chosen the rather more difficult and complex method of non-figuration.”

In the catalogue, it was noted that Frank Avray Wilson had “donated a sum of money to be awarded as a prize to one of the artists participating.” Though not noted in the catalogue, the prize was awarded to Aubrey Williams.

Related items

click to show details of 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

»  1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1963

People in this exhibition + view all 28

»  David Partridge

Born, 1919 in Akron, Ohio

»  Ahmed Parvez

Born, 1926 in Rawalpindi, (now Pakistan, then India). Died, 1979

»  Ashu Roy

Born in Calcutta, India, date unknown

»  Ron Russell

Born, 1923 in Australia

»  Brian Wall

Born, 1931

Exhibition venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom