Review of Lynn Chadwick: Retrospectives, Blain|Southern

The works of a familiar face from the recent past are paying London a visit to mark the centenary anniversary of their creator’s birth. Despite his initial training as an architectural draughtsman, Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) is widely known today as a sculptor and began to participate in several exhibitions (such as those at Gimpel Fils gallery) in the late 1940s and 1950s. His work is now on display at Blain|Southern, London, until 28 June.

Following his unexpected triumph of winning the International Prize for Sculpture at the 28th Venice Biennale in 1956, beating well established sculptors at the time such as Alberto Giacometti, Chadwick carried on his career as a self-taught artist producing a large body of work. This early success helped him purchase Lypiatt Park in Gloucestershire, a medieval and Tudor manor house, which became his home and workplace from 1958 until his death in 2003. Many of his sculptures are still dispersed in the parkland grounds of the estate.

Blain|Southern gallery presents a major survey of these works, not only in its London branch but also in the Berlin and New York (Blain|Di Donna) showrooms. A concurrent retrospective exhibition also takes place at Osborne Samuel in London while four works (steel beasts made between 1989 and 1990) were on display at the Annenberg courtyard of Royal Academy of Arts until recently.

The London show at Blain|Southern spans the gallery’s ground floor and basement areas. The ground floor space is occupied with earlier samples of Chadwick’s oeuvre (dated between 1956 and 1967), all welded and cast in bronze, a technique and medium that he began employing from the 1950s and he never actually abandoned. These large scale figures embrace both human and animalesque forms in predominantly abstract fashion.

All sculptures (the so-called stabiles as opposed to the earlier mobiles) stand on elongated and attenuated legs, supporting heavy and voluminous geometrical bodies. The underlying kinesis of his creatures is engulfed in his Teddy Boy and Girl (1955), one of the works responsible for engaging the Biennale prize in 1956. Here, the male and the female figures are portrayed as two monumental entities in motion -a rectangle and triangle in dialogue- balancing on stilts. The representation of this particular male figure is reminiscent of the egg case of a skate, echoing Chadwick’s inspiration from the natural world.

Encounter VI (1956) still has close resemblances with the previous work, although a clearer and more robust geometric approach is beginning to emerge shortly after; Moon of Alabama (1957), Stranger III (1959), Beast XVI (1959), Black Beast (1960) and the totemic presence of Trigon (1961) are surveys of geometrical arrangement of surfaces and the subtle occurrence of abstraction.
Homage to his fascination with geometry is heavily embodied in the series of nine pyramidal objects, all made in 1966 from a different medium this time, formica on wood. The abstract hypostasis of Conjunction XII (1967) encapsulates this keystone evolution in Chadwick’s artistic vocabulary.

Coming back to earlier forms, Chadwick revisited his animal sculptures by producing a whole series of new works in the 1990s, six of them are on display at the basement space. Made of welded stainless steel, these smaller scaled, nevertheless vigorously intensified, beast works are maquettes for larger creations (such as those presented at the Royal Academy). Emphasising on motion and instinctive behavioural characteristics, Chadwick’s prismatic percipience of form representation is permeated with dynamism and futuristic mannerism. His Ace of Diamonds II (1986-96), another stainless steel survey for a group of kinetic sculptures, demonstrates his ongoing enthrallment in the trajectory of movement.

Chadwick has been criticised by some for the lack of new ideas. However, a more careful study of his work divulges a busy mind always keen to investigate new ‘readings’ on chosen narratives and challenge past practices. His contribution to British post war sculpture was irreplaceable and his opus will endure to stimulate artists and art historians for the years to come.

Lynn Chadwick: Retrospectives, until 28 June, Blain|Southern, 4 Hanover Square, London, W1S 1BP.

Kostas Prapoglou

1. Stranger III, 1959, Bronze, 218 x 264 x 84 cm (85 x 104 x 32 in)Photo: Peter Mallet, 2014.
2. Lion I, 1990, Welded stainless steel, 162.5 x 132 x 345.5 cm (64 x 52 x 136 in) Photo: Peter Mallet, 2014.