CoBrA, Zero, Pop-art to Minimalism, Conceptual art; ater WOII, the Western artworld was dominated by rapidly succeeding ideas. The 1970s gave the freedom to reexamine existing concepts and ideas. Artists started to rethink their own art. Amidst this evolving European art scene, Mart de Houwer made her first artistic appearance.

By the early 1970s artists from around the world were independently exploring a similar theme: the making of art itself. In order to create something new, they returned to the basic starting point. Size, scale, colour, line, form, texture and material were investigated. Subsequently the working process itself became important in a more conscious way. The artworks look easy but behind the result lies a deeply personal connection to the maker. The drawn lines for instance bare trace of personality, replacing the thumbprint.


The ideas of going back to basics are rooted in Conceptual art and Minimalism. Donald Judd (1928–  1994), one of the most important Minimalist theoreticians and artists of and a contemporary of Mart de Houwer, described the artwork as “a form as a form as a form”, as apposed to the earlier idea of an artwork as “a form as a carrier of meanings (from without)”. Simply said, the artwork has no other meaning then being an artwork. It led to a gradual reduction and elimination of the visual vocabulary for the sake of the autonomy of the artwork. Artists like Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, Brice Marden and Robert Mangold saw a painting in a strict sense: it is a flat surface, with no representation. It is merely paint applied on a canvas.

The idea of “elementary” painting relates back to Theo van Doesburg and his manifesto “Concrete Art” from 1930.  He stated for instance:  

“The work of art should be fully conceived and spiritually shaped before it is produced.”

“The painting must be built up entirely with purely plastic elements, with flat planes and colours. A painterly element has no other meaning than ‘itself” and consequently the painting has no other meaning than “itself”.

Posted in THE NEW ART OF THE 1970S