William Turnbull at the YSP

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park currently have a small exhibition of sculptures by the Scottish artist, William Turnbull, in the Formal Garden, which is just below the Underground Gallery, with a display of some smaller pieces in the concourse inside the main building. The exhibition celebrates the artist’s 90th birthday.

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Along with Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, he was a member of the influential Independent Group, formed in the early 1950’s at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA).

According to Professor Anne Massey of Kingston University

the Independent Group ……. emerged from the ravages of the Second World War eager to lap up the new delights of post-war consumer culture. The Independent Group was also a serious talking shop for discussing modern art, modern design and modern architecture. Professor

Turnbull was influenced by Giacometti, Brancusi and Rothko and I can see some similarities with the works by Jean Arp that I saw recently at the Louisiana Modern Art Museum during my recent visit to Denmark. The YSP had previously held a major retrospective of his work in 2005. The current exhibition is a much more modest affair.

Turnbull’s diverse work ranges from boldly coloured Minimalist forms to an elegant, pared-back classicism exploring figures, totems, horses and masks. His characteristically still and silent forms are often incised with lines in shallow relief, reflecting an interest in calligraphy and recalling the mystery of ancient, sacred or tribal objects

Most of the works were relatively simple, abstract bronze sculptures. There were two pieces that were quite different – brightly coloured painted minimalist structures which made quite a contrast to his other sculptures on display in the garden.

He seemed to have something of an obsession with Venus/Aphrodite, as a number of the sculptures were named after the goddess.

I particularly liked his “Large blade Venus” (1990) which looked very much like a giant chef’s knife stuck in the ground and the simple, totemic, “Ancestral Figure” (1988).

The setting in the garden enhanced the works and I thought the display of “Sungazer” (1956) in the pond was particularly effective.

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