I nexplicably eclipsed by his later figurative works, these abstract pieces greatly resonate today. The aesthetic appeal for the contemporary viewer is unmistakable. The forms, the scale, the varied use of an exceptional range of bronze patinations, the relationships that can be created between the pieces, all attest to the enduring vision of one of the 20th Century greats and its relevance today.
Even those well versed in Chadwick’s oeuvre are less likely to have seen and be familiar with the sculptures he produced during a very prolific period in the early 1960’s. Abstract and owing a significant nod to constructivist architecture, he pushed the relationship between the unique armatures he created as the ‘skeletons’ for his sculptures (see ‘Process’ below) and different forms, often variations on the geometric, always simple and powerful. His working methods and the resulting pieces were both innovative and highly original in their day and continue to be so now, 60 years on.
Chadwick (1914-2003) is one of the pre-eminent British sculptors of the last century, and, like his contemporaries, including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, he played a pivotal role in the development of 20th Century sculpture. During a career spanning over 50 years until his death in 2003 he secured an international reputation underpinned with major prizes (including winning the International Sculpture Prize at the 1956 Venice Biennale, Giacometti having been awarded second place), important commissions, and a lifetime of private and public commissions, culminating with a major retrospective at Tate Britain in late 2004. Represented in the world’s leading public and private collections, increasing recognition of his major contribution to British sculpture ensures that his reputation continues to grow.
Chadwick came to sculpture late and by an unconventional route. After school in London, where he was born, and a stay in France, he worked for several London architect’s practices, focusing on techniques of draughtsmanship and watercolour as well as oil painting. He then served as a Royal Navy pilot between 1941 and 1945 when the war intervened. On his return to London he began to experiment with mobiles, unaware of the work in a similar vein by Alexander Calder, and earned his living as a freelance designer until 1952. Collaboration with the architect Rodney Thomas proved a formative influence on him, and from 1951 he received commissions for sculpture, following a solo show at Gimpel Fils in 1950.
Chadwick received instant recognition in the 1950s, his work having unmistakably caught the post-war mood, and became prominent amongst that group of metal sculptors who followed in the footsteps of Henry Moore. His pieces were awarded numerous prizes at competitions, many of international importance, including the 1952 and 1956 Venice Biennales.
The 1960’s saw two distinct directions. As success led to commissions for monumental sculptures, part of his work become more block-like, much of it designed to be seen in the open. Alongside, and seemingly eclipsed by these huge creations, he worked in his studio at Lypiatt Park on the more private, smaller scale sculptures shown in this exhibition, the attention to detail of his unique process and the experimentation with surface textures no doubt informing his approach to the large scale public pieces. The large scale pieces are to be found in numerous public spaces and many can be seen today in the sculpture park surrounding his home, Lypiatt Park, in Gloucestershire.
Chadwick was self-trained as a sculptor. His work was process-led and based on improvisation with the materials. He welded together frames made of iron or steel rods to see how they would develop. The iron or steel frame was then filled with an industrial compound of iron filings and plaster called Stolit, which could be worked wet or dry and set like stone, to create the form in his mind’s eye. He usually worked to the full size of the finished piece.
His method was unique in his choice not to sketch his sculpture beforehand, preferring instead to improvise all parts of the process without a specific plan in place, radically breaking with the tradition of first sketching a planned sculpture and then carving the piece from wood or stone. He rejected what he characterised as the amorphousness of stone, preferring to work with iron because it allowed him to “do a three dimensional drawing...which has a very definite shape.”
All aspects of the making were executed by Chadwick himself, up to the final phase of the process, casting the working model in bronze. For a long time Chadwick was the sole technical force in the production of his work. As a result, his extensive archive of work exceptionally includes the actual working models he created from which the bronze sculptures were cast.
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10–30 September 2021
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