‘I would call it attitude, you know, the way that you can make something almost talk by the way the neck is bent, or the attitude of the head; you can actually make these sculptures talk, they say something according to the exact balance…' (Lynn Chadwick, quoted in Dennis Farr and Eva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick Sculpture, With a Complete Illustrated Catalogue 1947-2003, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2014, p.28)
Lynn Chadwick was propelled to fame in 1952, as one of the seven young British Sculptors included in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of that year. Curated by Herbert Read, it was in his catalogue introduction for this exhibition that Read coined his famous phrase, ‘the geometry of fear’, to describe the nature of both abstract and figurative sculpture included in the show. The group of artists that included Chadwick, Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull, Reg Butler, Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Geoffrey Clarke, and Bernard Meadows signalled the emergence of a new generation of British artists onto the International stage. These sculptors were seen by Read to make manifest post-war angst: ‘These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt. Here are images of flight, or ragged claws "scuttling across the floors of silent seas", of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear.’ (Herbert Read, 'New Aspects of British Sculpture', exh. cat., British Council, XXVI Biennale di Venezia, 1952). Four years later, by the 1956 Venice Biennale, Chadwick was chosen as the sole British representative for sculpture, and cemented his international reputation by winning the International Sculpture Prize ahead of such well-known artists as Alberto Giacometti and César.
Two Watchers V Third Version, 1967, is one of just two versions of this edition in private hands: the other two are held in the collections of the Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, Aalborg, Denmark and the National Gallery of Hamilton, Bermuda. The present work is the apex, in scale and ambition, of Chadwick’s motif of the watchers. In this iteration, he explores the dynamic potential of relationships between his figures, both physical and psychological. Rather than watching outwards, for an approach unknown and unspecified, this pair turn their attention inwards. Conjoined, the watchers’ featureless, flat-headed faces confront one-another front-on in an endless scrutiny. The couple are poised in a ceaseless tension, a never ending expectation of something or nothing. ‘I would call it attitude, you know, the way that you can make something almost talk by the way the neck is bent, or the attitude of the head; you can actually make these sculptures talk, they say something according to the exact balance…' (Lynn Chadwick, quoted in Dennis Farr and Eva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick Sculpture, with a Complete Illustrated Catalogue 1947-2003, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2014, p.28). There is a palpable sense of the ‘almost talking’, of a dialogue that is yet to commence.
Despite his inclusion within Read’s so-called ‘geometry of fear’ group, Chadwick was a particularly independent sculptor with an idiosyncratic practice. He undertook very few public commissions and during the 1960s, when the present work was produced, he retreated from the London art scene, both as a refusal of the creative zeitgeist of the time and for personal reasons. Initially training as an architect, Chadwick began his sculpting career through constructing mobiles. ‘If I look back on my work over a period of years, I can see a development from mobiles and constructions, on to beaten shapes with limbs and connections, to the solid forms on which I’m now working. It seems there has been a deliberate continuity, as if the mobiles had been a research into space and volume (separate parts free in space), and the constructions had been a way of joining the parts together, fixing them in space to make forms, and that these constructions have become armatures for the solid shapes – the iron frames of the construction still delineate the mass and act as lines of tension.’ (Lynn Chadwick, ‘Artist’s Statement’ in Alan Bowness, Lynn Chadwick, Metheun, London, 1962, unpaginated). Throughout his career, Chadwick largely worked alone, painstakingly welding internal armatures for his sculpture, then frequently casting them into bronze, as with the present work. Chadwick exploited the limitations of his method and medium to perfect its possibilities: ‘I believe that it is necessary for the artist to have feeling for the method in which he works, whatever his medium…as if [the forms] were the logical expression of the materials’ (ibid, unpaginated).
The immense stature of Two Watchers V Third Version is counter-balanced by Chadwick’s attention to surface. The structure itself, of welded armature then cast in bronze, dictates the surface. Vein-like ridges span across the figures’ bodies in skeins, somewhere between organic, like wings, and man-made machine. Alan Bowness writes that the skin and bone have the same source: ‘Everything is thus brought to the surface, and the network of rigid lines and absence of curves is somehow expressive of a high pitch of nervous intensity’ (Alan Bowness, ibid, unpaginated). Life-size and anthropomorphically in possession of psychological power, the pair seem nonetheless emblematic rather than literal: ‘Much of Chadwick’s work invites metaphysical speculation; he has the sculptor’s remarkable power to make images that have a symbolic value, images that we know mean something to us without our understanding why’ (ibid). Chadwick himself rejected explanation, preferring to leave untouched the elusive potency of such works as Two Watchers V Third Version: ‘It seems to me that art must by the manifestation of some vital force coming from the dark, caught by the imagination and translated by the artist’s ability and skill…Whatever the final shape, the force behind is…indivisible. When we philosophize upon this force, we lose sight of it. The intellect alone is still too clumsy to grasp it.’ (Lynn Chadwick, ‘A Sculptor and His Public’, The Listener, 21st October 1954).
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