Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Geometry Of Fear

'These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance....Here are the images of flight, or ragged claws "scuttling across the floors of silent seas", of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear....'

Herbert Read, reviewing the 'New Aspects of British Sculpture' exhibition in the British Pavilion at the Venice Bienalle, 1952.

Lynn Chadwick: Winged Figures (1955)
Kenneth Armthorpe: People In The Wind (1950)
Bernard Meadows: Black Crab (1951-1952)

In the late forties, as one war was finishing and another, colder one starting, British sculpture suddenly got, well, let's not say, ugly, but less pretty, less cuddly. The new style was shrapnel like and twisted, usually in bronze, all sharp edges and protruding spikes - angles, mandibles, aerials - primitive, unfinished, abstract - created by violence as much as artistry. It was art that had witnessed the aftermath of bombing raids, and anticipated a nuclear apocalypse.

Reg Butler: Circe Head (1952-53)

Geoffrey Clarke: Head (1952)

Elisabeth Frink: Harbinger Bird IV (1960)

Not so much a movement as a mood, the exhibition kickstarted a number of illustrious careers, and had a powerful influence on British sculpture for decades after the initial shock had worn off.

As Read concluded: 'These British sculptors have given sculpture what it never had before our time - a linear, cursive quality. Their art is close to the nerves, nervous, wiry. They have seized Eliot's image of the Hollow Men... They have peopled the Waste Land with iron waifs.'

1 comment:

  1. I feel this period of sculpture came out of the "Art Informel" movement which mainly encapsulated drawing and painting. The esthetic fell out of style in the 1960s and has been very much overlooked until the more recently renewed interest in all things "Mid-Century"
    There needs to be more study of this period of sculpture, IMHO.
    I've always loved Henry Moore.