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Sculptures in a modern vein

06 November 2015

Nicholas Cranfield on the work of Geoffrey Clarke and others

Unique, courtesy of Pangolin, London

Stations of the Cross, 1952, in iron and brass. Both are in the exhibition

Stations of the Cross, 1952, in iron and brass. Both are in the exhibition

WHEN a good friend of mine died in the parish five years ago, I attended her funeral at Taunton Deane Crematorium. The surprise of the day was not in the eulogy, as Jeremy Kyle gave his aunt a wonderful tribute, but in finding that the stained glass was by Geoffrey Clarke (1924-2014).

I had grown up knowing Clarke’s work from the new Coventry Cathedral, where three of the nave windows were his, giving the cathedral a wholly new structure of pools of colour, bounded with a wire mesh, as broad lines in the glass created a soaring world of spires. To find his work in a Devon crematorium encouraged the spirit; and a model for one of those windows at Taunton is in the present show in London, as well as a watercolour sketched design for one of the more notable windows in the West Midlands cathedral.

Clarke was still a student at the Royal College of Art in 1952 when Sir Basil Spence commissioned him, another contemporary student (Keith New), and their tutor, Lawrence Lee, for ten windows for the nave. At the time, Clarke had already represented the RCA at the 1951 Festival of Britain with Icarus, a maquette for which is shown here alongside a spidery etching for the design.

At Coventry, his abstract windows suggested the journey through life and into the afterlife. Invisible to the visitor from the rear of the “great barn”, as Spence called his building, they come into view only as the communicant returns from the altar, as they are set diagonally into the wall, like so many brittle coloured sweets forming a blade-saw’s teeth.

Clarke also undertook to fabricate the high-altar cross and candlesticks, one of which has been loaned to this exhibition, and is shown next to one of Chadwick’s domestic candlesticks (1983). He also supplied a suspended crown of thorns to hang above the altar in the circular Chapel of Christ the Servant, which is visible from outside. The crown is linked to a cross that is pierced at three points by large nails, which was intended to represent Industry. Fifty years on, the industry outside the glass walls of the chapel has gone, but the metaphor of Clarke’s design remains valid.

No longer in place is his original aluminium cross for the cathedral roof, which was affixed to the roof from a helicopter to avoid the costs of a steeplejack. The cross later blew down and was replaced with a lightweight plastic copy, indistinguishable from the original, but much to the sculptor’s annoyance.

Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) was ten years older than Clarke, who had acquired one of his slate and wire mobiles in 1950, and both were in correspondence for a period after attending a practical and theoretical welding course run by the British Oxygen Company that summer. Might industry still support art in the same way today?

Chadwick’s repertory here shows the command that he maintained as a sculptor with fugitive figure works that have not always been popular. In 1957, he was commissioned by the League of the British Empire for a work to commemorate the double Atlantic crossing of the airship R34 in July 1919. Chadwick had qualified as a pilot in 1941, and had served in the Fleet Air Arm for three years.

One of the maquettes for the proposed design (1958) shows an adventurous double-headed figure that rises through the shape of an airliner with two feet firmly on the ground. The “wings” of the wire ribs appear to be those of a bat stretched outwards. The design was approved by the Minister for Transport but was rejected for London Airport after Lord Brabazon of Tara graphically decried it as “a diseased haddock”. It was never built, but remained an elemental shape to which Chadwick often returned.

There are further works by both artists in the lobby of Kings Place itself, where both sculptures and some significant works on paper can be found on the walls of the foyer for two national newspapers, and around the atrium itself.

A further benefit, which for me makes going to Kings Place such a “must-see”, is the fact that, until January, Robert Travers of Piano Nobile has installed a spectacular exhibition of recent work, most of it from 2010 and 2011, by Greg Tricker (b. 1951) downstairs in the same building.

“Revelation: Sacred Art, Sacred Music” is shown alongside a concert series of performances of John Taverner’s compositions. It is a generously large show, which runs till 8 January 2016, spread over the two levels.

Tricker’s themes draw repeatedly on the Bible, and include works of stained and etched antique glass, such as the hectic scene of Joseph of Arimathea and the Maries in the Boat as part of the Grail legend (2010), and a Maria and Child (55 × 25in.) that would not be out of place in Chartres Cathedral. I can give no higher praise.

His trademark has always been of paintings on found wood, and I particularly enjoyed his John the Baptist in Prison, with large Byzantine eyes, that is painted on what appears to be the back of the top half of a stable door, and an up-close view of Jesus calling the first disciples, Fishers of Men.


“Conjunction: Lynn Chadwick and Geoffrey Clarke” is at Pangolin, Kings Place, London N1, until 28 November. Phone 020 7520 1480.


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