Wednesday 7 June 2023

Sculpture in Post-War Britain

Towards a New World: Sculpture in Post-War Britain, at Marlborough Fine Art.

The exhibition explores the international impact of a group of young sculptors and artists who merged past trauma, present anxieties and future hopes into a new visual language. They were influenced by trail-blazing artists such as Germaine Richier and Alberto Giacometti.

Britain emerged from the shadow of WWII unequivocally altered, shaken by the collective trauma the Western world had endured while new adversaries were beginning as tensions grew between the US and the Soviet Union. Amid the harrowing memories of war and the looming threat of nuclear annihilation, a young generation of sculptors sought to capture the post-war sensibility.

In 1952, art critic Herbert Read curated the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Entitled New Aspects of British Sculpture, the exhibition introduced a group of young British sculptors to an international audience. The sculptors included Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Kenneth Armitage, Georffrey Clarke, William Turnbull, Bernard Meadows and Eduardo Paolozzi. Read coined the term 'geometry of fear' to describe the rough, sharp and twisted shapes of their works:

'These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt. Here are images of flight, or ragged claws 'scuttling across the floors of silent seas', or excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear'.

Splintering and adrift, human and inhuman, the ambiguous forms of their works articulated a new visual language, emblematic of a period that precariously straddled the horror of the past and promise of the future. The same year, Elisabeth Frink held her first solo show at London't Beaux Arts Gallery. Frink's warrior figures display a fragile 'hyper-masculinity', whose violent proclivities are juxaposed with an uneasy vulnerability.

This turn away from the smooth, monumental forms of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth owes much to the influence of Germaine Richier and Alberto Giacometti. Richier had staged her first London show at the Anglo-French Art Centre five years prior to the group's showing at the Venice Biennale. Her deformed, animal-hybrid figures resonated strongly with young British sculptors.

Kenneth Armitage,  Seated Woman with Square Head, 1955 

Elisabeth Frink, Warrior, 1963, (bronze)

Geoffrey Clarke, Figure, 1952, (welded iron)

William Turnbull, Fin, 1957, (bronze)

Reg Butler, Dream Machine, 1962, (pencil on paper)

Graham Sutherland, Organic Form, 1948, (coloured crayon on paper)

Graham Sutherland, Study for Horned Forms, 1960, (gouache and black chalk on paper)

Graham Sutherland, Tree Form at Convergence of Paths, 1945, (watercolour and crayon on paper)

Reg Butler, Macaw's Head, 1960-62, (bronze)

Bernard Meadows, Large 'Jesus' Crab (Lager Spider Crab), 1952-54, (bronze)

Kenneth Armitage, Untitled, 1958, (gouache and charcoal on paper)

Kenneth Armitage, Linked Figures, 1949, (bronze)

Geoffrey Clark, Effigy, 1951, (iron)

Geoffrey Clarke, Head (Found object), 1953, (iron on aluminium)

Reg Butler, Study for Sculpture - St Catherine, 1953, (shell bronze and wire)

Kenneth Armitage, Sprawling Woman, 1957, (bronze)

Reg Butler, Tcheekle (The Tower that Grows in the Night), 1960-62, (bronze)

Alan Reynolds, The Village Fair, 1952, (oil on board)

Reg Butler, Figure in Space, 1958-59, (bronze)

Alan Reynolds, January Landscape, 1952-53, (oil on board)

Reg Butler, Study for Third Warcher, 1954, (bronze)

Prunella Clough, Man with Printing Press, 1953, (oil on canvas)

Prunella Clough, Factory Interior (Wool Carding Shop), 1954, (oil on canvas)

Reg Butler, Manipulator, 1954-56, (shell bronze)

Eduardo Paolozzi, Untitled, 1953, (ink on paper)

Eduardo Paolozzi, Drawing for Sculpture, Head 1, 1954, (Indian ink and watercolour on paper)

Reg Butler, Rosamind Julius, 1951-52, (shell bronze)


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