VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
Self Portrait, 1889 (oil on canvas)
In his famous self portrait of 1889 from the Musée d'Orsay, Vincent Van Gogh uses the physical texture of paint not only to fashion his own likeness but also to reveal his psychological disposition. The planes of his face and texture of his hair are boldly hatched in contours of expressive brushstrokes which, despite their feverish energy, hold together as a tightly drawn portrait. The psychological intensity of the image unwinds from his eyes like a wave discharging its energy through the swirling strokes of his jacket and into the turbulent flow of the background. Today we see this painting as one of the most powerful psychological portraits in the history of art but Van Gogh viewed his work in a less intense light. He wrote about this portrait in a letter to his brother Theo, "Today I’m sending you my portrait of myself, you must look at it for some time – you’ll see, I hope, that my physiognomy has grown much calmer, although the gaze may be vaguer than before, so it appears to me." . This is why Van Gogh is so universally loved. He paints with such instinctive honesty and vulnerability that he is unaware of what he is actually revealing about himself.
KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF (1884-1976)
Self Portrait, 1906 (oil on canvas)
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was strongly influenced by Van Gogh's vigorous painting technique. His forceful style provided the inspiration for Schmidt-Rottluff to push his own art towards the psychodrama of Expressionism. Although Schmidt-Rottluff's vivid Expressionist palette may be more strident and his impasto brushwork more energetic than Van Gogh's, he disappointingly reveals less of himself than you might expect. His use of visual elements is heightened for expressive impact but he is too consciously aware of their aesthetic effect. Consequently the result lacks the endearing candour of Van Gogh's portrait. It is, however, the type of painting that advances the canon of art by developing new expressive possibilities for color and texture. Its radical technique offers subsequent generations the licence to abstract these elements as separate aesthetic components in their own right.
The Entire City, 1935-36 (oil on canvas)
Max Ernst used the physical texture of surfaces as a source of Automatism, a device used in Surrealism to unlock the 'unconscious mind'. To this end he devised various techniques such as 'frottage'  and 'grattage'  to transfer textures onto paper and canvas. In 'The Entire City' he creates a textured surface by scraping paint over a canvas that has been laid upon planks of wood and wire mesh. The resultant texture is then searched as a potential source of images, similar to the way that psychologists use Rorschach blots.
In this work Ernst uses 'grattage' to unearth a form that evokes the terraced architecture of an ancient civilization. He then develops this idea with a painted sky for a background and flowers and plants for a foreground. The processes that Ernst employs combine a range of techniques that generate a Surrealist vision: an image born in the 'unconscious mind' and raised to consciousness through the 'free association' of Automatism.
JOAN EARDLEY (1921-1963)
Seeded Grasses and Daisies, September, 1960 (oil on board with grasses and seedheads)
Joan Eardley was an extraordinary Scottish painter whose style ranged from kitchen sink realism to expressive abstraction. Her subjects also ranged between the urban and the rural: from the gritty humanity of her portraits of children amidst the post-war slums of Glasgow to her powerful landscapes and seascapes of Catterline on the north east coast of Scotland.
Joan Eardley painted her Catterline landscapes outdoors come hail, rain or shine. She would often work on several paintings in the same location, gradually building up an awareness of her surroundings. It was her desire to paint what she felt about the landscape and not simply to represent what she saw in it. This involved getting to know a location over a period of time so that she was sensitive to its changing character. She would then try to focus on those key elements that contributed to the emotional impact of the landscape. In 'Seeded Grasses and Daisies, September', her total immersion in the subject led her to incorporate stalks of meadow grass and flowers in order to ground the abstract texture of the work in reality. Here, the image and its medium literally become one and the same.
ANTONI TÀPIES (1923-2012)
Cruz y Tierra (Cross and Earth), 1975 (mixed media)
Antonio Tàpies saw texture as a language 'of great expressive forcefulness' that had not been fully explored in art. He experimented by mixing building materials such as sand, cement, marble dust, tar and straw with his paints. He combined these unrefined media to create a weathered, impasto surface into which he scratched, carved and collaged enigmatic evidence of the human presence.
Tàpies viewed his paintings as walls with all their metaphorical layers of meaning: the inscribed marks and ciphers of humanity; declarations of love and hate; bloodstained scars of violence and disorder; separation and confinement; construction and destruction; the elements of nature; smooth, serene, tortured, broken and repaired surfaces; the romantic ruins of a crumbling civilization; a witness to the passage of time and the physicality of matter.
'A cross could be a shape for expressing something spacious; such as the coordinators of space. That could be called its first significance or its first relevance. A cross could equally stand for crossing something out. It could also be a sign of obstruction. An overturned cross, an X so to speak, could be the symbol of mystery, something for the other side. Then I could paint a cross in such a way that a connection is made between two bars, and in doing so convert it into a symbol of the unlimited. So, many different crosses and X symbols occur in my works.'