Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s academic training under Gillies and Maxwell in pre-war Edinburgh instilled the disciplines of drawing and formal structure in both abstract, faux naif and observational aspects of her multi-facetted work. Ben Nicholson’s influence in St Ives was complemented by continental sources, particularly the lyricism of the Ecole de Paris and the pictographic mystery of Klee and Vieira da Silva. Barns-Graham met the latter in 1950s Paris. The francophile colourism of the Scottish School is apparent in the present work which in other respects sees Barns-Graham operate independently as a free existential spirit of the times, exploring her unpredictable and ‘chance’ configurations through a personal inward journey. Both in terms of colour and of an allusive miniature geometry of floating circles, lines and squares, Barns-Graham weds plasticity to a lingering sensual link to the sensory world.
John Blackburn is an artist who relates strongly to the raw experience of human life, and although ostensibly abstract, his paintings are rooted firmly in the tangible, in life as it is lived on a day-to-day basis. All art is autobiographical to a degree, and in Blackburn there is the constant sense of a man in reiterative confirmation of his own existence, but also of a man with a deep sense of empathy in a wider sense. Since his twenty-first-century resurgence, Blackburn has made a partial return to the more formalised vocabulary and construction of his sixties work, reworking some older paintings, and making new ones in which the shapes and spaces are given a more expansive range, both in material density and in line and colour.
Sandra Blow was born in London in 1925, and studied at St Martin’s School of Art from 1941 to 1946, at the Royal Academy Schools and subsequently at the Academy of Fine Arts, Rome. Italy played an important part in the development of her work as did her travels to Spain and France in the late 1940s. Crucial too, was her first exposure to Cornwall in the 1950s, when St Ives was internationally recognised as an important outpost for the development of modern art. An abstract painter who also used materials such as polyethylene, and willow cane to construct pictures, Blow was concerned pre-eminently with the problems of pure painting: balance and proportion, tension and scale. She taught at the Royal College of Art from 1960 and finally returned permanently to Cornwall in 1994 where the form, light, space, texture and rhythm of her work contained echoes of the topographical elements around her.
Born in Birmingham of Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, David Bomberg was brought up in London. He was apprenticed to a lithographer, and went to night classes constructed by Walter Bayes at the City and Guilds Institute. He broke his indentures in order to attend evening classes at the Westminster School of Art under Sickert and with Lethaby at the Central School. The Jewish Educational Aid Society enabled him to go to the Slade 1911–13, winning the Tonks Prize for a drawing of fellow student Isaac Rosenberg. Bomberg visited Paris with Jacob Epstein in 1913, meeting Picasso, Derain, Modigliani and others. During the Second World War he became an official war artist and began teaching part time, most notably at the Borough Polytechnic, 1945–53. With his pupils there he formed The Borough Group, 1947–9 and the Borough Bottega in 1953. In 1954 he moved to Spain, where he remained until he fell ill and was brought back to London via Gibraltar. Bomberg’s later powerful, thickly painted oils strongly influenced such pupils as Auerbach, Kossoff and Creffield.
Lynn Chadwick studied architecture and worked as a designer before emerging in the 1950s as a sculptor with a distinctive and dramatic style. He began to make constructions and mobiles of metal and glass in 1945. During the 1950s
he was prominent among the group of metal sculptors who followed in the steps of Henry Moore, and his works, although largely abstract, carried suggestions of the human figure. Notable among his works is ‘The Watchers’, a bronze cast from a reinforced plaster modelled upon a rigid framework. During the 1960s
his work became more block-like and monumental, designed to be seen in the open. In the late 1980s and 1990s Chadwick was given exhibitions in Paris, London, New York and Tokyo. Chadwick’s death in 2003 led to a major exhibition at Tate Britain held later in that year.
Barrie Cook occupies a distinctive position within British art because he has maintained an almost unbroken alliance to spray-painting for the past forty years. His achievement has established this method of working as a legitimate, versatile mode of expression in a fine art context. Cook has influenced many ambitious students of painting with his enormous canvases, often enveloping the viewer’s field of vision. The early work favoured dark columns mainly black and Indian red; the stark uncompromising vertical forms were interwoven with moody horizontal bars. They conveyed a timeless claustrophobia hinting at the decline of the heavy manufacturing industry and the polluted environment of industrial Britain. Cook’s ambition is to create a truly holistic work with a physical presence, at the same time offering a sensuous transcendent vehicle for meditation, and his personal advance has been his preparedness to risk inventive, close colour combinations to bring about a genuine visually holistic experiences.
Reg Butler worked as an architect then also as an engineer and blacksmith, before turning to sculpture in 1944. He had his first solo exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in London in 1949, and in 1952 his work was included in a group show of new British sculpture at the Venice Biennale. In 1953 he won the first prize in a London international competition for a monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner. The model, a vertical structure of welded rods with three little cast figures at its base, should have, but never did, become a vast construction, possibly on the cliffs of Dover. Butler at this time made sculpture combining welded elements with modelled figures, but subsequently he celebrated his fascination with the female figure in his plastic sculptures that seem vividly naturalistic in form and colouring yet reveal themselves as explorations of distortion and exaggeration.
Born in Frankfurt, Paul Feiler studied at the Slade School from 1936–39, subsequently settling in Cornwall where he was associated with the
St Ives painters, particularly with Peter Lanyon. He exhibited at the Redfern Gallery from 1933 to 1959, at the Royal Academy from 1943 to 1972, and has shown in provincial and London galleries and abroad. His work is represented in collections including the Tate Gallery. From 1946 to 1975 he taught at the West of England College of Art, Bristol. Initially influenced by Cezanne and by his Cornish environment, in the mid 1960s, connections with the landscape disappeared from his work and he has worked since then with a restricted range of geometric forms.
Donald Hamilton Fraser RA is famed for his abstract landscape paintings. He trained at St Martin’s School of Art, and later taught at the Royal College of Art (1958–1983). Hamilton Fraser’s predominant subject matter was landscape. Here he combined his Scottish descent and his affinity with French painting from his study there in the 1950s, which is greatly reflected in his style and execution – layering thick bright paint with a palette knife to produce an almost collage effect. The landscapes remain close to their origins whilst forming abstract almost dream-like fields of colour. Hamilton Fraser participated in many of the most significant exhibitions of British work including the Royal Academy’s 25 Years of British Painting, where he was also a Royal Academician and a trustee from 1995.
Born in Berlin, Lucien Freud came to England in 1932 and trained at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and later at Goldsmith’s College. In 1939 he associated with Stephen Spender and David Kentish in Wales and during the 1940s he established a firm friendship with Francis Bacon. In 1942 he began to work full time as an artist. In 1944 he held his first exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery and thereafter showed at various London galleries, including the London Gallery from 1948–51, Marlborough Fine Art from 1958–68, Anthony d’Offay from 1972, and in numerous group exhibitions. Freud’s recent work has united his interest in paint texture and physicality with precision of contour. Portraits, mostly paintings of family and friends, reveal Freud’s search for physical truth, eg. the series of portraits of his mother, 1971–3. Similarly, his naked figures offer no concession to the tradition of the nude but share the same uncompromising vision and intensity. He died in 2011, at the age of 88.
Born in Burma, Adrian Heath studied art under Stanhope Forbes at Newlyn in 1938 and attended the Slade School in 1939 and 1945–7 under Schwabe. As a prisoner of war he met and taught Terry Frost and in 1949 and 1951 visited St Ives where he met Ben Nicholson. In the early 1950s he was associated with the Martins, Pasmore and Anthony Hill and arranged exhibitions in his studio for abstract artists. Heath’s work has been shown in may group exhibitions and is in national and international public collections including the Tate Gallery and the Hircshorn Gallery, Washington. In 1969 he was Artist in Residence at the University of Sussex, and Senior Fellow at Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education from 1977–80. Heath’s painting moved from abstraction to semi-abstraction and developed a style which retained memories of nature and combined the abstract with the experience of the motif.
Patrick Heron lived in Cornwall from 1925 to 1929, studied at the Slade School from 1937–39 and worked as an assistant to Bernard Leach at St Ives in 1944–45. In 1945 he moved to London, but continued to visit St Ives and returned to live in Cornwall at Zennor in 1956, taking over Ben Nicholson’s studio in St Ives in 1958. A Trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1980 to 1987, he has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Exeter, Kent and the RCA, London. He received his CBE in 1977. The main focus of Heron’s work is colour. His early painting was influenced by Braque and in the 1950s he turned to abstraction. By the 1970s this took the form of highly coloured shapes which gave an overpowering optical sensation and intense interaction of colour. In later work form and colour became more expansive and organic with greater reference to the natural world.
Brian Ingham is an English painter, sculptor, collage and graphic artist. He attended St Martin’s School of Art from 1957–61, Royal College of Art 1961–64 and British Academy, Rome 1966. He was given a number of awards including an Italian Government scholarship, The Leverhulme Research award and an award from Atelier Haus, Worpswede, Germany. Ingham’s work engages with the crucial period of Cubism from 1912–1916 and the work of Picasso, Braque and Gris in particular. However, his interests and inspirations are diverse and include the work of Kurt Schwitters, Robert Rauschenberg, Giorgio Morandi and even Piero della Francesca. Ingham’s work concentrates on both real and implied space within the surface of the picture. This often entails relief or collage. It is perhaps of little surprise that he found an affinity with ‘carving and quarrying’ plates as an etcher. He later took to interpreting his ideas in three-dimensions with similar subjects of still life cast in to relief sculptures.
Born in St Ives, Cornwall, Peter Lanyon took lessons from Borlase Smart in 1936, and attended the Penzance School of Art in 1937. In 1939 he met Nicholson, Hepworth and Gabo and received tuition from Nicholson. In the 1940s and 1950s he visited Italy and America and held his first solo exhibition in London at the Lefevre Gallery in 1949. Lanyon taught at Bath Academy of Art from 1950–7, ran an art school with Frost and Redgrave at St Ives 1957–60, and between 1960 and 1964 taught at Falmouth, Bristol and at the San Antonio Art Institute, Texas. Although abstract, his paintings are directly related with the experience of landscape, particularly that of Cornwall. Influenced by Cubism and Constructivism through Nicholson and Gabo, he turned to making constructions as preparation for paintings circa 1939, returning to landscape painting after the war but continuing to make constructions for paintings.
Peter Kinley was born in Vienna and came to Britain as a refugee in 1938. He served in the British Army before studying at the Düsseldorf Academy and then at St Martin’s School of Art. He taught at St Martin’s and at Wimbledon School of Art before becoming Principal Lecturer at Bath School of Art in 1975. He exhibited in Britain and abroad and is represented in many British and international public collections. Kinley’s works from the 1950s were often made using a palette knife and show the inflence of Nicholas de Stael. His later paintings were simplified, colourful, and schematic with subjects reduced to their fundamental shapes – they reflect his visits to India in the 1970s and ’80s, and his admiration of Henri Matisse. He said that he tried ‘to make paintings that are strong enough to remain in the memory as coherent images even after a brief encounter.’
In common with most progressive painters working in the Cornish art colony of
St Ives during the 1950s and beyond, Alexander Mackenzie impregnated his austere and streamlined landscape abstractions with glimpses of experienced places around the West Penwith peninsula. Liverpool-born and trained, Mackenzie arrived in St Ives in 1951, becoming a leading member of the modernist Penwith Society of Arts soon after which he developed the textually explicit and rhythmically delineated painting style that became his own. Mackenzie’s landscape vision carried an anthropomorphic dimension, the pronounced scratched, rubbed or faded natural textures within interlocking geometrical forms encapsulating sensual and cerebral proclivities, while evoking subterranean archaeological content. Throughout his career Mackenzie was drawn to ancient and wild places and in Levant Zawn he describes a dramatic place near St Just where the underground workings of Levant Mine reached far under the sea.
A painter of portraits, still-life, flowers, birds and landscapes, in oils and waterolours, Cedric Morris studied in paris from 1920–26 and exhibited with the AAA, London Group and Seven and Five Society and at Tooths. He travelled widely, and lived in Cornwall and London before settling in East Anglia with
Lett-Haines with whom, in 1937, he opened the East Anglian School of Painting. He co-founded the Colchester Art Society and was President of South Wales
Art Society. There are examples of his work in many national collections. His style reflects a close observation of people and nature, using strong colour
and bold design.
Henry Moore is arguably the greatest sculptor of the twentieth century. Born in Yorkshire in 1898, he died after an exceptionally productive career in 1986. His large-scale sculptures are centrally sited in many major cities across Europe and North America. Indeed it can sometimes seem as if his work has become so familiar that we fail to notice its beauties and its boldness. He was notable throughout his career for his output of graphic art (drawings, watercolours, etchings, lithographs), not necessarily closely related to the development of individual works in sculpture. These, unusually for a sculptor, often used colour and often established a complete pictorial setting for figures or for imaginary sculptural objects, in a manner recalling the work of De Chirico or Max Ernst.
Born at Denham, Buckinghamshire, Ben Nicholson studied at the Slade School 1910–11, and travelled widely in Europe and the United States 1912-–8. He married Winifred Roberts and they lived (1920–31) in London and Cumberland, spending winters in Castagnola, Switzerland. His first one-man show was at the Adelphi Gallery in 1921, and he visited Paris in that year, seeing paintings by Picasso and Braque. Nicholson was a member of the Seven and Five Society, and was active in Unit One. In 1932 he visited Paris with Barbara Hepworth (who became his second wife in 1934) and met Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and Arp. On Subsequent visits to Paris in 1933 and 1934 they met Mondrian and Moholy-Nagy. Nicholson’s later work moved regularly between abstraction and figuration, always cool, harmonious colours, subtle textures and typically in precisely shaped interpenetrating and interlocking shapes.
John Piper was a painter of architecture, landscapes, flowers and abstracts in oils, watercolours and gouache; a draughtsman, collagist, printmaker; stained glass, textile and theatrical designer; illustrator, maker of reliefs and constructions, photographer and writer. He studied under Coxon at Richmond School of Art in 1926, and at the RCA 1927–9. In 1927 he met Braque and Henry Moore. Piper turned to abstraction in the 1930s, exhibiting at the London Group and the Seven and Five Society. He married Myfanwy Evans in 1937, working with her on the magazine Axis. He later returned to figurative painting, in particular topographical subjects. He developed a romantic idiosyncratic style which combined a range of rich, strongly contrasted passages of colour, rapidly drawn sharp lines and varied textures. Commissions included design of stained glass windows for Coventry Cathedral, 1957–61, and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, 1963–7. His work is represented widely in public collections including the Tate Gallery.
Bridget Riley studied at Goldsmiths’ College of Art under Sam Rabin from 1949–52, and at the RCA from 1952–5, where contemporaries included Dick Smith, Peter Blake, Joe Tilson and John Bratby. She has travelled extensively in Britain, Europe, India and the Far East, making an important visit to Egypt in 1981. Since 1961 she has worked partly in Vaucluse, France, and since 1965 has exhibited internationally. A pioneer of Op Art, Riley limited her painting to black and white in the early 1960s, covering the canvas with simple forms that underwent modulations in order to give a sense of movement and space. She gradually introduced tonal variations and, in 1966, colour. Using groups of colours, she concentrated on a form which would liberate fugitive colour with the minimum of distraction eg. stripes of colour. Her later work became warmer, the formal elements more variable and the control of fugitive colour more apparent.
William Scott attended Belfast College of Art 1928–31, and the RA Schools 1931–35 where he studied both sculpture and painting. In 1936 he worked in Cornwall and between 1937 and 1939 he lived and worked in France at Pont-Aven and St Tropez. From 1939 he worked in Dublin, London and Somerset and in 1946 visited Cornwall, meeting Nicholson, Lanyon, Frost and Wynter. He continued to return to France and in 1953 and 1959 went to America where he met Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko and Kline. Concerned with still-life and ideas of ‘primitive realism’, Scott’s work reflects the influence of Cezanne, Chardin and Nicholson in its deliberately presented, symbolic simplification. Influenced by American painting, he produced larger abstract works between 1952 and 1954 but returned to still-life later in the decade. Later abstracts, 1958–62, used evocative shapes which reflected still-life and the nude; they became increasingly refined and economical. More recent work combines the still-life subject with harmonious, vibrant colour and the purity of the abstract paintings.
William Turnbull is one of Britain’s most distinguished sculptors and painters. In the late 1940s he studied art in London and then spent time in Paris, and ever since he has rigorously explored a limited number of archetypal forms as well as the fundamentals of art’s languages. Over more than fifty years William Turnbull has returned again and again to the head and the mask, to the standing figure and the horse, as well as to possibilities of pared-down, often monochromatic painting. His simple objects, which draw on both primitive and classical ideas, often combine presence and poetry in unique ways.
Born in London, John Wells studied medicine at University College Hospital from 1925–30 taking evening classes at St Martin’s School of Art during the same period. In 1928 he met Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood in Cornwall and then later, whilst working as a doctor on the Isles of Scilly during the war, he spent time in Cornwall with Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo, all of whom were close friends. It was through these visits to Cornwall and correspondence with these artists that John Wells came to Constructivism. The purity and balance of his early constructivist early painting from this period is often commented on. Through his involvement in the St Ives community he founded the Crypt Group, St Ives and later in 1949 he became a founding member of the Penwith Society.
Christopher Wood was a painter of seascapes, harbours, landcapes, imaginative and figure compositions. He worked mainly in oil, including oil-based house paint used deliberately for a crudity of effect, and also in watercolour and gouache. Wood studied architecture briefly at Liverpool University, then, in 1921, worked in Paris at the Academie Julian and at the Grande Chaumiere. He met Picasso and was on friendly terms with Jean Cocteau and Max Jacob. His first one-man show was at Heals in 1924; in 1925 he showed with Paul Nash at the Redfern Gallery, and in 1926 he met the Nicholsons and exhibited with the Seven and Five Society. Wood’s work showed much experimentation, as he came into contact with so many cross currents in contemporary art in Europe, from Cubism to Surrealism, but it was always vigorous and painterly. He was killed falling under a train at Salisbury station.