Edward Maurice FitzGerald “Robyn” Denny (3 October 1930–20 May 2014) was one of a group of young artists who transformed British art in the late 1950s. They were the first British artists of the post-war years to take his influence from American Abstract Expressionism.
Although he is now less well-known than his contemporaries such as Howard Hodgkin, Bridget Riley, Peter Blake or David Hockney. Denny’s paintings were huge, hard-edged geometric abstractions, which encapsulated the cool, modernising mood of the late 1950s and early 1960s (at the time Churchill College was still under construction).
Denny had his first solo exhibition in London in 1957, and in 1960 helped to organise and take part in the “Situation” exhibition at the RBA Galleries, which marked a significant move away from the more delicate abstract painting of the St Ives school of artists. In the 1960s he had shows in Milan, Stuttgart, Cologne, New York and Zurich. In 1966 he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, and in 1973 became the youngest artist to be awarded a retrospective by the Tate.
His early work typically consisted of large, symmetrical canvases on which horizontal and vertical bands in soft, muted colours, framed shapes like overlapping doorways. From the late 1960s Denny introduced freer, more vibrantly-coloured compositional motifs in which verticals were no longer so dominant. His paintings required a constant process of visual adjustment, with juxtaposed colours producing flicker effects which made the forms, spaces and scales appear unstable.
Denny was born in 1930 in Abinger, Surrey, and died at his home in Linars, France in 2014. He studied at St Martin’s School of Art (1951-54) and the Royal College (1954-57). He has had many solo and group exhibitions internationally and has work in public collections including the Tate, London; MoMA, New York, USA; Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal and Art Institute, Chicago, USA. His most public work is at London’s Embankment tube station, installed in 1985.
—Barry Phipps, Curator of Works of Art