It was in the run up to his 1956 Venice show that Chadwick created the first version of Teddy Boy and Girl, a subject he was to return to a number of times in the following years, including the present work. It is one of his most important images – perhaps, even, his signature image – and certainly one of the great works of 20th Century British sculpture. Its sharp angular forms, full of energy and dynamic movement; the tension between the work’s surface and its structure; the expression of the human form through a etiolated, mechanised, post-Cubist gaze – everything about this work speaks of the concerns of Post-War sculpture, in Britain and abroad, a movement that sought to find a new form of expression centred on the figure that could encompass the horror of the War years, the optimism of having survived them, yet the new sense of threat that came with the shadow of the Cold War.
Yet for all its significance, Teddy Boy and Girl also speaks very directly to a British audience, with its very British subject-matter. The Teddy Boys were this country’s first manifestation of a youth ‘sub-culture,' a working-class street style doused in teenage rebellion, at a time when the idea of ‘teenagers’ didn’t really exist in Britain. The Teds’ name derives from the long Edwardian-style jackets favoured by both boys and girls, which were then paired with drain-pipe trousers, white socks, crepe-soled suede shoes and topped off with a quiff or pompadour inspired by Bill Haley or a young Elvis Presley. This sub-culture had a dark and violent edge too. As Michael Bird writes, ‘Teddy Boys gained a reputation as dangerous outlaw-dandies, who didn’t take much provocation to flourish flick-knives and knuckledusters concealed in their tailored pockets, (Michael Bird, Lynn Chadwick, Lund Humphries, p.78). Inevitably, trouble would start over a girl: one wonders if there is an element of threat in the boy's raised arms- or are they just dancing?
For Chadwick, the subject allowed him both to provoke bourgeois sensibility – the choice of title, as Bird points out, is deliberately pop-cultural, aimed to infuriate the critics (ibid. p.78) – but also to tap into the energy of these rebellious youths. Chadwick often stated that his sculpture had to have ‘attitude’ – a term he never really explained, but which his long-standing bronze founder Rungwe Kingdon came to understand as a combination of formal qualities – stance, precision of line, crispness of texture – with the work’s sense of character (See Rungwe Kingdon, ‘Coming From the Dark’ – Lynn Chadwick, exhibition catalogue, Gallery Pangolin, Stroud, 2003, p.11). The Teddy Boys and Girls, in their sharp jackets and elaborately sculptural hairstyles, certainly had plenty of ‘attitude’. If sculpture in the Post-War era was looking for a new spirit, why not look towards those that had only really known this Brave New World? In this reworking of the Venice piece, Chadwick takes the boy and girl's long, draped jackets and emphasised their pleats and folds, making the overall silhouette sharper and the internal tensions more evident, angular. In doing so, these pleats form what feels like an exoskeleton - the brittle carapace of the teenager seeking identity and a sense of belonging by running in a gang.
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