26
26

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT LONDON COLLECTION

John Wells
HOMAGE TO NAUM GABO
JUMP TO LOT
26

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT LONDON COLLECTION

John Wells
HOMAGE TO NAUM GABO
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art

|
London

John Wells
1907-2000
HOMAGE TO NAUM GABO
signed, dated 1948 and inscribed on the reverse; also signed, dated 1948 and inscribed on the stretcher bar
oil on canvas
41 by 51cm.; 16 by 20in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

The Artist
Jonathan Clark & Co., London, where acquired by the present owner, 23rd October 2003

Exhibited

St Ives, Penwith Society, Summer 1973, 1973, cat. no.64 (as Painting);
Plymouth, Plymouth City Art Gallery, Mackenzie, Mitchell, Wells, 1st February - 2nd March 1975, cat. no.44;
London, Wills Lane Gallery, John Wells Commemorative Show, 27th July 1987, cat. no.17;
St Ives, Tate, John Wells: The Fragile Cell, 2nd May - 1st November 1998, cat. no.25, illustrated p.42 (as Collection of the Artist);
London, Jonathan Clark & Co., John Wells Reaching Beyond the World's Edge, 15th October - 7th November 2003, cat. no.13, illustrated p.21.

Catalogue Note

John Wells was a key figure in St Ives in the post-war period, at a time when this small fishing village on the westernmost tip of the country was vying with London to be the true centre of the British avant-garde. It was Wells, along with his close friend Peter Lanyon, who founded the Crypt Group in 1946 specifically to create a space where a ‘new generation’ of artists could exhibit and exchange ideas. The Crypt Group is often seen as a challenge to the hegemony of Ben Nicholson (in particular) and Barbara Hepworth, over what ‘St Ives Modernism’ was and could be, although Wells himself remained profoundly influenced by this older generation, as can be seen clearly here in the title of this painting, which is without doubt one of his most important works and a  centrepiece to his 1998 Tate retrospective. Indeed, Gabo, who had arrived in Carbis Bay, on the outskirts of St Ives, at Nicholson and Hepworth’s invitation, was a key influence on Wells and Lanyon alike – both of whom made constructionist sculptures in parallel to painting in the late 1940s. It was Gabo’s articulation of the space within objects – which he expressed through filaments of fishing wire strung in echelon between the elements of his translucent Perspex sculptures – that finds resonance in the work of Wells, who then begins to look out and beyond, to trace the surrounding space and the movement in between objects. This is Wells’s great innovation – to take Gabo’s concept and to set it free of the studio or gallery, placing it in the world. 

 

As the curator Matthew Rowe has written on Homage to Naum Gabo: ‘This composition is one of Wells’ most ambitious creations, combining a sense of lateral motion and recessional depth for the fractured form that also alludes to the material quality of Perspex, with radiating lines inscribed into the surface. The use of the dense green as a textured background may refer back to Gabo’s first paintings made in St Ives, which used similar tones, but it also helps place the object against an organic, natural environment, as if we are glimpsing some elemental force within the landscape’ (Matthew Rowe, John Wells – Reaching Beyond the World’s Edge, exh. cat., Jonathan Clark & Co., London, 15th October –  7th November 2003, note to cat. no.13). It is this abstract, geometric rendering of an ‘elemental force’ that makes Wells unique – a painterly equivalent of Hepworth’s contemporaneous exploration in sculpture (Wells worked as Hepworth’s assistant between 1950 and 1951). Whilst Lanyon takes to the skies in a glider to feel these forces, Wells keeps his feet on the ground and takes his measure from there – from the soaring flight of birds to the intimate spiral of a shell; the zig-zag lines of rigging of ships in harbour to the triangular flashes of colour of their sails fluttering in the breeze. 

 

In the roughened surface of Homage to Naum Gabo one wonders if one can’t see an evocation of a  dark, leaden sea surrounded by a bay, a moon perhaps reflected in the water, an image that then shears open to reveal alternative spaces and perspectives, of sea and sky and coast on a much brighter day – with this rupture of time and space conducted by the line that swirls and darts through the composition like a gull riding a thermal. Yet any such reading is deliberately fleeting and allusive, as the work’s obvious abstract quality pulls us back into the realm of art and the language of Modernism. It is this exquisite push and pull (conflict doesn’t feel like the right world, as it is all so harmonious) between the abstract and the figurative, measure and poetry, that makes Wells’s work so engaging and rightly evocative of the St Ives movement as a whole. 

Modern & Post-War British Art

|
London