Systems Group


Founded in 1970 by Malcolm Hughes & Jeffrey Steele.

Approach to making abstract art – the object is constructed from a vocabulary of basic geometric elements in accordance with some form of predetermined and often mathematical principle. The idea is as well as having aesthetic value the resulting work will also resonate with the viewer’s intellect as they can consider the principles used in the work. They seemed to have gained more acceptance in Europe despite being a British group.

Constructionists – acted as a sort of precursor to the systems group. They included; Victor Pasmore, Mary & Kenneth Martin, John Ernst & Anthony Hill.

While the mathematical element in this work was important these artists saw it as only a tool to inform the compositions; “an aesthetic of objective invention and sensation, distinctly rational and determinist.”

This movement grew out of the history of European Constructivism, which had featured a strong socio-political rationalle; “a synthesis of painting, sculpture, design and architecture in evolution of an egalitarian and inspirational living environment.” With the advent of the cold war it seems this kind of idealism and these lofty political ideas were not to be trusted any more, so artists increasingly began to turn to the internal logic of how art is made. The interests were;

construction – building art from constituent parts,


allowing intuition or chance to play a part,

no illusion / symbolism,

space as a compositional element,

the work projects its own essential qualities – not artist’s personality or drives (not fans of Pollock etc. presumably)

use of non-traditional materials, 3d reliefs popular

They had 2 main approaches to using mathematics;

1. Architectural model. Architects use maths to articulate their buildings’ designs; how everything is supported, structured and proportioned. Buildings falling down not a big advantage. The Constructionists used maths to govern how the elements making up the work must function to articulate the form of the piece.

2. A fundamental approach to the essence of maths – going deeper into the principles of maths and how it can tell us about systems we experience in the world around us. Work made with this in mind can give the viewer a sense that it relates to something more significant outside of itself; has something to say about the world we inhabit.

Artists associated with Constructionists;

Mary Martin

Was interested in dissolving the duality between architecture and art by having them use similar languages. Did a wall piece in belfast hospital using the modular grid of the building to inform the design and only using materials that were used in the building’s construction. Other pieces used the Fibonacci series (sequence of numbers where each number is the sum of the previous two) to determine the dimensions of the geometric elements.

Expanding Form 1954 by Mary Martin 1907-1969
Expanding Form 1954 by Mary Martin 1907-1969









Kenneth Martin

Also was interested in Fibonacci series to inform his works. Did a lot of sculptural pieces and mobiles, monumental works





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