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Architectural Heritage opens summer exhibition of modern British sculpture & drawings by sculptors
Iron Husk II by Peter Randall.

by Alex Puddy


CUTSDEAN.- An Exhibition – my first here at Taddington and I believe, without conscious thought, an event that I have been working towards for many years. Spending time with this collection, five distinct areas which, to a large degree, reflect my own interests have emerged as Themes with Variations… Namely; The Classical World; The Figure and the Nude; History through Conflict; The Science of Nature and The Philosophy of Belief. In our new gallery, all painted out in ubiquitous Dulux white, are works by Artists whose Art I admire, for you to enjoy and I hope find interesting in equal measure.

Staring out through time is ‘Mask of a Greek Boy’ circa 1929 by Dora Gordine (1895 – 1991) – imbued with ‘restful dignity’ this work, with its distinctive trademark Gordine textured finish and patina, developed when Gordine was living and working in the Montparnasse area of Paris, finds a partner in the form of ‘Young Bull’ circa 1929 by Georg Ehrlich (1897 – 1966). Ehrlich, born in Austria, becoming a British citizen in 1947, developed an interest in the realistic period of Greek sculpture after Pericles, and here in ‘Young Bull’, an iconic symbol of the classical world, this model sits comfortably within his oeuvre as exhibited (26 works in the Austrian Pavilion) in the 1958 Venice Biennale.

Two works one would not on first sight associate with the Classical World are: ‘Hambalt’ by William Pye (Born 1938) and ‘Across’ by Stephen Cox (Born 1946). Bill Pye’s work explores his interest in the temple architecture of ancient Greece. Here Bill confines himself to a ‘restricted field of variable units’, these units or joints, ‘bird’s mouth’ and ‘swept tee’ being two, are brought together to effect a transformation through complication and, like the Pyramids of Giza, the ‘effort’ of making is discussed by a highly reflective surface. Great effort is required to carve Porphyry and here Stephen Cox has mixed the sacred (this purple porphyry comes from the Egyptian Imperial quarries of Mons Porphyrites – last quarried in the Renaissance) with the profane (he used machinery to carve this work) to create a highly architectural piece that reminds me of the entrance to the Tombs of the Apis Bulls.

Completing this section is ‘Study for Laocoon 1’ by Michael Ayrton (1921 – 1975). After a visit to Greece in 1958, a lifelong fascination with Greek Mythology grew and from here a ‘need to make sculptures to release my drawings’. In this sketch we see the powerful figure of the Trojan priest ‘Laocoon’ reinterpreted as a figure struggling in torment, searching even, for his own identity. Ayrton quoted here lets us in a little… ‘Every maze is therefore different, for each is personal and yet various. Each is a prison and a sanctuary, a journey and a destination…’

To the Figure and the Nude – ‘…Show him not as a pompous heroic figure, but as part of our surroundings. I choose one of his characteristic resting poses, I have drawn my neighbour’s attention to another neighbour whom he passed a thousand times on the street, but to whom he never gave a second thought’. So said Peter Laszlo Peri (1899 – 1967) about his work ‘Street Sweeper’, an artist making us look again, look at the familiar in a different way, seeing anew what is already there – surely this is the cornerstone of artistic endeavour and here this character made from Pericrete (coloured concrete) in 1937 does all of the above.

Two Leon Underwoods (1890 – 1975) bridge this date – the later powerfully coloured ‘Matriarchy’, circa 1949, is clearly influenced by his deep respect for ethnographic art and the earlier exquisitely drawn work ‘Nude Figure Studies’, circa 1922, a date that coincides with the opening a year earlier of his drawing School in Brook Green London – where incidentally he taught the young Henry Moore at a charge to all students of 2/6 each session.

Some 30 years later in 1952 Henry Moore (1898 – 1986) was working on finding a solution to the focal point of one of his most important sculptures ‘King and Queen’. The subject said variously to be inspired by an Egyptian stone group (hands missing), the upcoming Coronation of Elizabeth II, and himself and his own wife! The hands were a vital element needed to express the subtly of power. To achieve this, against his usual practice, firstly his wife Irene and later his secretary Tam were brought in as hand models for the King, with the Queen’s hand being somewhat sweetly that of his 6-year-old daughter Jane. The resulting study cast in bronze ‘Hands Relief No. 1’ was cast in an edition of 9 + 1 and is, I believe, a much-overlooked model. I wish to thank the Henry Moore Institute for authenticating this work.

A work very much in the style of Underwood, but somewhat later, is seen here in a small, sinuous, S-line bronze of a ‘Watercarrier’ dated 1988 by John Skelton (1923 – 1999). We have an impish ‘Nude in an Armchair’ by Ralph Brown (1928 – 2013) leading us on to an impressive ‘Nude’ by Reg Butler (1913 – 1981). Dating from 1970, this large-scale work (Butler was a trained Architect and so clearly not afraid to work on such a scale) relates to a series of drawings produced and shown at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in 1973. This drawing never made it to that exhibition instead finding its way into the legendary collection of the late Drue Heinz.

Scale is also relevant here in the work ‘Joy of Life’ by Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones (1908 – 1969). This euphoric bronze resin group, circa 1940, of young lovers spinning each other around is a preparatory and probable committee sign off model for the large-scale bronze public fountain in London’s Hyde Park. ‘Bernadette Going to Wales’ by Kenneth Armitage (1916 – 2002) makes me smile. The work relates to a real-life Bernadette Watts (a friend and illustrator of children’s books) who was moving with her boyfriend to North Wales – the figure is Bernadette and the stencil on the screen is of a succession of men going in the opposite direction…

Two works from Bryan Kneale (Born 1930) the first ‘Untitled’ (head study) is a small but powerful work which draws you in to look and re look at the duality of the strong portrait(s). The second leads us to War and Conflict.

As a young lad, ill in bed, his father brought to him a still warm shard of buckled shrapnel from the only bomb to be dropped on the Isle of Man during the Second World War. The work here ‘Oasa’ shows an artist in charge of shape – architectural in quality with a hint of a controlled expansion (explosion?) this work reminds me of a Frank Gehry Project.

Many Artists in the Exhibition have been displaced and deeply affected by conflict – George Ehrlich fought as a soldier in the First World War only to flee persecution before the Second, a similar escape for Peter Laszlo Peri, and Dora Gordine was forced from her home by the Russian Revolution before her move to England via France. Witold Gracjan Kawalec (1922 – 2003) was a Polish resistance fighter, serving later in the Middle East, North Africa and then retrained as a night fighter pilot for the RAF. After the War he settled in Nottingham, opening his studio there in 1953. This untitled work in aluminium brings forth different reactions from different people and so I will leave with you to interpret as you wish…

‘Drawing #2 (Birdman)’ by Elisabeth Frink (1930 – 1993), the influences on this work include; memories as a child during the War growing up near an airfield where Frink saw planes and airmen falling from the East Anglian sky, a boyfriend serving in the Air Force badly injured in a parachute accident and the much publicised (Paris Match) death of an ex French paratrooper Leo Valentine, known as ‘Birdman’. Frink conveys through energy and spontaneity: speed, a determination to succeed and then ultimately the doomed fragility of man and body. This is the earliest known drawing for Frink’s Birdman Series – N.B. The Birdmen were daredevils seeking to fly with fixed wings jumping from planes – nearly all of them died.

From Birdmen to Birds and the natural world explored in a gentler way, influenced no doubt by the works of the young John Skeaping and perhaps Gertrude Hermes, Jack Coutu (1924 – 2017) here carves ‘Dove’, circa 1950, in Fruitwood with brass beak and ‘Warthog’, 1948. Neither sentimental nor reverential but both pleasing and calm, especially when juxtaposed next to ‘Crow’ by Trevor Bates (1921 – 2008). A screaming, stamping, mildly comic bird come Harpie from the most famous sculptor no one has heard of. Studying under Ossip Zakdine, exhibiting in the Paris Salon and representing Britain and winning the grand Jury prize in ‘The Unknown Political Prisoner’ Sculpture Competition (another artist Reg Butler here represented won the main prize). With exhibitions at the Tate, Redfern and Waddington Galleries… you get the point, and so I will stop now and move on to the natural world explored from another perspective. Peter Randall-Page (Born 1954) is recognised as one of this country’s best sculptors with three of his five works represented here in this section.

Geometry in nature is explored in ‘Stone Maquette I’ ‘visualizing one form within another’ ‘natures (own) theme and variation’, ‘Iron Husk II’ investigates the organic and the seed whose ‘inaccessible’ interior Peter has been seeking to reveal from his earliest works. The continuous coil shown in ‘Bronze VI’ again investigates the hidden, however, this time it’s inside the human body and those complicated folds that are concertinaed deep in our lower intestine. Again, looking in depth into the nature of the organic, Austin Wright (1911 – 1997) in ‘Main Road’ spent time as Gregory Fellow of Sculpture at the University of Leeds, viewing early botanical electron micrographs. These images informed his view of the natural world and a series of works ensued, employing the sculptural possibilities of a new lightweight material – aluminium. To quote Wright ‘It speaks out to any form of light in the sky’.

Aluminium is also Geoffrey Clarke’s (1924 – 2014) sculptural material of choice, however, here we see ‘Tree Form’ 1974 cast in Mazak alloy (95% Zink, 5% Aluminium) employed to make the smallest work in the exhibition. At 6.7cm tall the concentration of effort is evident and from my limited research part of an experiment to combine the visual with the olfactory – a bold attempt at the time to combine what we see and what we sense, which leads us on to the final area of investigation – The Philosophy of Belief.

From the smallest to the largest (by weight) work in the exhibition ‘The Evolution’ by Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903 – 1973) was carved from a mighty block of Portland stone. Once owned by the famous architect Charles Holden, this work took inspiration from the first chapter of Genesis ‘the rugged ripples of stone which formed the base… The shape grew up and passing through like a fish like form developed into a stony man’.

Keeping with the Christian theme Keith Milow (Born 1945) has for many years made Crosses ‘a cross between Painting and Sculpture’ with its ‘endless formal permutations’. Keith looks with ‘Cross 05 12’ ‘to maintain a dialogue between forms and symbols of the real world and pure abstraction’ and at times, as here, he can be quite irreverent!

Taking abstraction to be a personal journey beyond what we see and perceive as ‘normal’ I believe is in a way a leap of faith – Anthony Caro (1924 – 2013) here creates a delicate work ‘Small Bronze ‘d’’ one from a series of sixteen (a-p), which by all accounts Caro found difficult and fiddly to complete. It is through its very size and delicate solutions (this is not a maquette for a larger work) that makes it such an interesting piece.

Peter Randall-Page (Born 1954) also travels on a personal odyssey by ‘accessing his imagination through the act of carving’. ‘Night Song’, a title that implies an investigation of dreams, allows Peter to use stone as a vehicle to explore his fascination with the human mind and its imagination. With the bronze crescent (a disparate element) in balance with the claw chiselled base, I would suggest that Peter is asking us to be aware of what the sculpture is ‘a lump of stuff’ but also subtly implying, with a nod to Miro, that ‘other things are going on’.

In contrast ‘Fingers and Thumbs’ (known to us as The Spotty Rock!) with fingerprints visible, the ‘spotty’ pattern makes the ‘eye move more slowly across (the work)’, encouraging us to be ‘aware of the form’ and possibly intuit our own connection to early human (in this case Aboriginal) marks and symbols.

Stephen Cox (Born 1946) here with two works, one Drawing ‘Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether’ and a Sculpture ‘Colours Tanmatras II’ (five carved elements). Both investigate the Hindu concept of the Tanmatras or Subtle Elements. The five sense perceptions experienced through Ear, Hand, Eye, Mouth and Nose, namely; Hearing, Touch, Sight, Taste and Smell; combine in multiple ways with the four elements Earth, Water, Fire and Air and a fifth element, Ether. As Stephen says the Tanmatras ‘enables one to conceive and develop a conceptual understanding of things beyond one’s own place within the cosmos’.

‘Mithras Suite II: Friendship’ by Michael Lyons (1943 - 2019) – A whirling Dervish of a work that is both ‘an expressive object but also a container of a spiritual content’. Mithras or Mithra was a God worshipped across the Ancient World and a particular favourite of the Roman Soldier (a temple discovered and preserved is under Bloomberg’s headquarters in the city (London)). This work opens the door to Michael’s explorations of Myth and Religion, made tangible through the manipulation of made and found metal elements. Most works took years (made and remade) to formally arrive at a solution that Michael was content with, his studio being a joyous testament to work(s) in progress.

This Exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Michael who sadly passed away earlier this year.






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