Blain|Southern | 1 May 2014 – 28 June 2014 London Hanover Square
A superb retrospective of Lynn Chadwick’s sculptures is currently running at Blain|Southern in London this month. Already a month through the exhibition runs for another four weeks so there’s plenty of time to get down there to see the work.
Known primarily for metal works often inspired by the human form and the natural world, Lynn Chadwick was one of the leading sculptors of post-war Britain. He first came to international attention at the Venice Biennale in 1952, showing work which eschewed the traditional sculptural traditions. Instead of marble, wood or stone, Chadwick and his fellow exhibitors at the British Pavilion embraced iron structures, plaster filler and industrial compounds. Four years later, Chadwick was awarded the coveted International Sculpture Prize at the 1956 Biennale, becoming the youngest sculptor ever to do so and beating the favourite, Alberto Giacometti.
Chadwick began his career in the architect Rodney Thomas’s office. Following war service in the Fleet Air Arm (1941-1944) resumed his work producing exhibition stands – work which involved the practice of construction. With the encouragement of Thomas, Chadwick created his first mobiles. Later he developed ground supports for these, transforming them into ‘stabiles’. At the same time, he was designing fabrics and furniture.
In 1946, aged 32, Chadwick moved from London to Gloucestershire. While living there he met many people who influenced his future, such as the owners of Gimpel Fils gallery in London, who displayed his first mobile in 1949, and also staged his first one-man show in 1950. The following year, for the Festival of Britain (1951), he produced a work called Cypress, which required him to work on a larger scale and in metal. During this period he was increasingly concerned with the supports of the ‘stabiles’, and eventually these transformed into sculptures without any mobile elements. In order to find an architectural or engineering solution to their construction, he had to learn to weld; through trial and error, he discovered many new techniques which became the bedrock of his artistic practice.
One such technique was the creation of armatures, which he made from steel rods welded together to form threedimensional shapes. He then filled these with an industrial compound called Stolit – a mixture of iron filings and plaster that could be applied wet – and when dry, chased to achieve the desired surface. This was sometimes textured, sometimes smooth, but always with the original rods still visible. Chadwick constructed most of his sculptures in this way, and in the late 1950s he decided to cast them in the more durable medium of bronze. The surfaces of the casts were then treated to achieve the subtlety of colour to match the theme he was working on. Later, he also cast in silver and gold.
In the 1960s, Chadwick became interested in both abstract and human form – and later, in the detailed observation of how a figure moves and the stances it might take. During the 1970s and 1980s began standardising these figures, and in doing so developing a personal visual ‘code’. Eventually most of the male figures had rectangular heads and the females had triangular heads (or flowing hair as in High Wind).
Chadwick often spoke of a general feeling that he was merely the craftsman. In an interview on the BBC Home Service, published in The Listener, 21st October 1954, he said: “It seems to me that art must be the manifestation of some vital force coming from the dark, caught by the imagination and translated by the artist’s ability and skill. Whatever the final shape, the force behind is… indivisible. When we philosophise upon this force, we lose sight of it. The intellect alone is still too clumsy to grasp it.”
Lynn Chadwick’s sculptures feature in the collections of most major museums, including MoMA, New York; Tate Gallery, London; and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.