Archive for category Author: Michael Bird

The St Ives Artists – a biography of place and time || Michael Bird

You might be forgiven for thinking that not a lot can have happened in the life of an well-established artistic colony in the eight years since the first edition of this account was published. As Michael Bird points out in his introduction, the town itself has changed, much has been written and interpretations have changed. There has also been a series of exhibitions, including at the Tate Gallery outpost. It isn’t the art that has changed so much as the view of it.

This is a narrative account of a colony that did not establish itself entirely by chance and was, for the most part, populated by incomers rather than growing out of local work. That centred more around the fishing industry and it is the demise of this, as much as anything else, that has contributed to the changes in the town itself.

The story begins with the arrival of Terry and Kathleen Frost in 1946 and recounts the difficulties of a journey by train in the aftermath of the second world war, which provides a setting for what is an enthralling story as much as an art history. Such detail helps to emphasise the fact that artists are people who lead quotidian lives as well as producers of great works and figures in an elevated history.

The paper on which this is printed is designed to take type rather than illustrations, but there are plenty of these latter and they are reproduced surprisingly well. They are also carefully chosen to represent both the variety of personalities and styles that characterise a vibrant community that contributed a great deal to the art of the latter part of the last century.

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Lynn Chadwick || Michael Bird

Lynn Chadwick’s reputation took off after he won the International Prize for Sculpture at the 1956 Venice Biennale. Initially working with hand-forged iron, his favoured material turned, during the course of 1953, to sheaves of mild steel rods. Of his working process, he said, “a single weld may take an hour or more on a big thing, and you’re wringing wet at the end.”

Sculpture is always an intensely physical activity and brings the artist into greater contact with their material than many others, but this generation of workers was perhaps the most constructional there has been. This being the era of the Cold War, there was maybe a sense of both a plane of existence to preserve as well as a way of being to fight against and their pieces are never comfortable. The phrase, “forged in the white heat” is perhaps apposite.

This is a book which might well not have pleased Chadwick. Hostile to attempts to intellectualise art in general and his own work in particular, he maintained that “you improvise as you go along”, claiming to have no preconceived idea when a work started, how it was going to finish. Such statements can often be disingenuous. An artist may well not have a fixed idea of where a piece is going to finish, but they know their own working methods and which paths, when there is a branch in the road, they are likely to take. Even if they don’t have determined finishing point, they will generally have a starting one, even if it is only a state of mind. Disallowing the analysis of others is as often a way of preserving their own intellectual processes as it is of not wishing to see them diverted by others and having to argue with an outside assessment.

This substantial and well-written book is a thorough account of Chadwick’s working life and is comprehensively illustrated, his pieces being shown in studio as well as landscape settings. There are also personal photographs showing the artist both at work and relaxing.

Finally, did you want a justification of abstract sculpture? Try: “If you’re trying to make a thing like something else, it’s limiting.”

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