Last Saturday we headed up the M6 to visit the exhibition of works by Lynn Chadwick – Lynn Chadwick – Evolution of Sculpture – showing at the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal with some additional larger works from later in his careers being displayed at Backwell, The Arts and Crafts House, a few miles away near Windermere. Despite setting out reasonably early, the Motorway was still quite busy being the Bank Holiday and slowed to a standstill a couple of times, but only for a minute or so and we arrived in Kendal mid morning.
We really enjoyed the exhibition. I’ve seen a few pieces by Lynn Chadwick in other galleries (including the Hepworth at Wakefield) but here we were able to see how his work developed via a large number of pieces covering most of his career.
There were some particularly appealing pieces. His work was on the margins of abstract and figurative, many of his sculptures being based on humans and animals. In the entrance hall there were three beautiful life size abstract figures – the three Electras – cast in bronze, most of the surface had a heavy patina except for a square on the front – the breasts and naval – which was highly polished. It was a part of the casting, not a separate piece welded on. It was just the finish that was different. They were a dramatic introduction to the exhibition.
The Three Electras by Lynn Chadwick (Picture source Abbot Hall website)
The main part of the exhibition was on the first floor. There was a good selection of works with some very interesting pieces including a mobile (he started out making these) weird, fantastic beasts, abstract pieces, abstract humans (we particularly liked the Teddy Boy and Girl) and winged / cloaked figures. All very different from the more sinuous, sensuous, flowing sculptures produced by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth during the same period.
The art historian Herbert Read when discussing the strange beasts and other forms created by Chadwick Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage, who exhibited together at the 1952 Venice Biennale described their style as as 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…. These British sculptors have given sculpture what it never had before our time – a linear, cursive quality.’ (source here)
There was also a video showing about the artist and his working methods. I found that interesting as he worked in a much different way to say Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. He started by building a skeleton from metal rods (armature) welding them together then filling in the gaps with Stolit, a mixture of plaster and iron filings so his technique was constructive, building up from scratch rather than cutting away material which is what sculptors working in stone and wood do. And he didn’t particularly plan the works. He had a rough idea which developed as his work on a sculpture progressed. One of the talking heads in the video compared his method to drawing in 3D with the armatures, inserting them, trying different arrangements, cutting away pieces, as he worked. There were some drawings but they seem to have been done after the work was completed rather than as preparatory sketches. I found his way of working quite interesting as it was different from other sculptors.
At Blackwell there were a number of larger works that were displayed outdoors in the grounds of the house. They were from later in his career and, overall, I thought they were less interesting, and less typical of his signature style, than those on display at Abbot Hall. But it did give an insight into how his work developed.
My favourite was this piece of two women walking up and down stairs that was displayed outside the entrance to the house‘
Women walking into the wind with their hair and clothing billowing behind them is a recurring theme in Chadwick’s work. This is a later example. The dress blowing behind makes the figure look like a strange cross between a human and a chicken.
This work of seated male and female figures (Sitting Couple) reminded me of Henry Moore’s “King and Queen”
and they had a great view, especially on a nice sunny day