Wednesday, 28 January 2009

I love linocuts by Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews


Linoleum – once every home had at least one floor covered with it – is hardly the medium  associated with striking images like the ones illustrated here.

You’ll have to take my word for it, though: without

the muddy mixture of ground cork, solidified linseed oil and rosin rolled onto a coarse canvas backing – it was patented by its

English inventor Frederick Walton in 1860 – the prints might never have been conceived.

I remember making linocut prints in school art lessons (they were pathetic) but no one knows precisely when serious artists hit on the idea.

Theoretically, it could have started from the date of its invention, but apparently,

wallpapers in Germany are said to have been printed from lino blocks as early as the 1890s.

The German Expressionists Erich Heckel and Christian Rohlfs were among the pioneers of linocut prints, while the Australian artist Horace Brodsky was another.

Brodsky lived in London from 1908 to 1915, during which time he produced several powerful linocuts and also introduced the medium to the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brezska.

A print by the latter called "The Wrestlers" was included in the first exhibition of British linocuts in a London gallery in 1929.

In 1910, the American artist Max Weber created his first linocut from a length of linoleum which he found in a rubbish dump near his home in New York.

However, the greatest champion of the British linocut was Claude Flight, an artist and teacher who enjoyed huge fame at the height of his career but, by the time of his death, had fallen into obscurity.

Ironically, Flight had to contend with the linocut being held in low esteem among his fellow artists who perceived it as a method of print-making by childish means.

Beacuse lino was so cheaply available and easy to cut, it was quickly adopted by schools to teach children the rudiments of art.

The Viennese teacher Professor Franz Cizek was a pioneer of this. He encouraged his pupils to experiment in their art classes and by the 1920s, his approach was being adopted universally.

Flight welcomed Cizek's initiative and campaigned for the recognition of the linocut as an independent art form.

He also adopted methods which recalled the English Arts and Crafts movement by advocating production methods of craft-like simplicity with a complete absence of machinery.

Common linoleum from household floors provided his blocks and he used gouges with which to cut them fashioned from umbrella ribs and dessert spoons.

He believed press printing produced "hard and mechanical results" and instead simply rubbed the back of the paper with his hands as it lay on the linocut to yield lightly textured effects in which quality and depth of colour could be controlled directly.

The fascinating thing about Claude Flight, though, is that in addition to his relatively late start as an artist, his formal training was minimal.

He was born in London in 1881 and tried farming and bee-keeping on his parents' farm in Sussex for seven years (his neighbour was Rudyard Kipling); engineering for two years and for a year and a half was a librarian.

He was a mature student aged 31 when he enrolled full-time at Heatherley School of Art in London but his training was halted by the outbreak of thr Great War.

He volunteered as a farrier with the Royal Army Service Corps and then served for 31/2 (three and a half) years in France as a commissioned captain responsible for procuring horses and mules.

After the war he launched himself into a career as an artist, working first in oils and watercolours and, from 1919, he began to produce his first linocuts.

The pioneering work of Claude Flight was continued by a number of his talented Grosvenor pupils, notably Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews.

Power was born in London in 1872 into a family of several generations of architects. He lectured on architecture and was a published author on the subject.

During the Great War he was commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps and afterwards established an architectural practice in Bury St Edmunds.

Sybil Andrews was born in Bury St Edmunds in 1898. She worked in Coventry during the war making aircraft parts and returned home in 1918 to work as a teacher.

She met Power, 26 years her senior, at this time and their working relationship lasted 20 years, during which time they shared a studio in Hammersmith.

They held their first joint exhibition of pastels and watercolours in 1921 and decided to enroll at Heartherley's School of Art the following year - Power as a mature student aged 50.

Three years later, they helped Macnab and Flight set up the new Grosvenor School and they attended the latter's lino cutting classes.

Such was their prowess in the medium, that both began to receive rave reviews at the annual exhibitions organised by Flight.

Their collaboration extended to poster design from 1929 onwards, the bold design and colour of their linocuts successfully magnified to form the basis of a series of posters for the London Underground.

Work from their first major joint show of linocuts in 1933 met with great acclaim and was purchased by the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum.

In 1927, Flight founded an interior decoration business in London and, together with his close companion Edith Lawrence, another gifted lino-cutter and textile artist, he designed murals, floor and wall tiles, screens, curtains, bedspreads and even pyjamas. The business continued well into the Depression .

Flight also edited The Arts and Crafts Quarterly from 1926-27 and contributed a series of articles on the technique of lino-cutting. These were expanded into his first book linocuts, which appeared in 1927, followed by a second handbook in 1934.

From 1926, Flight began teaching lino-cutting one afternoon a week at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, founded in 1925 and situated in a house in Warwick Square, London.

Its founder was Iain Macnab, a progressive art teacher and wood engraver who had been joint principal at Heatherley's.

At Grosvenor School, Flight gathered around him a group of talented pupils and together they organised a series of annual linocut exhibitions both in London and to tour the UK and abroad. Some travelled as far as the U.S., China and Australia.

Flight taught a revolutionary method of lino-cutting. It dispensed with the key block which, in other forms of printing, lays down the main structure of the image.

Instead, Flight used two, three or four blocks of almost equal detail, each of which laid down an image in a different colour.

Superimposing one colour over another allowed the picture to be built up gradually in varying strengths and, by varying the order of the blocks, in differing eventual colours.

Because of its cheapness to produce, Flight saw the linocut as art for the masses. His vision was a linocut in every home, at prices, to use his own words, "equivalent to that paid by the average man for his daily beer or his cinema ticket".

He continued to teach at the Grosvenor School through the 1930s and he and Edith Lawrence continued with their design work until their studio in Baker Street was bombed in an air raid in 1942. Most of his lino blocks were lost.

Sadly, he did not produce any significant work after the Second World War and he suffered a stroke in 1947, after which his health deteriorated. He died in 1955, aged 74.

Picture above shows The Gale, a linocut of windswept figures by Cybil Andrews. It sold for £13.500.

Pictures in the slideshow:  Cyril Power's print of a rowing eight undershooting under Hammersmith Bridge is his most famous. Power was a great fan of the Head of the River Race and the print was made following the 1930 event. It sold for £36,000

This print titled 'Bringing in the Boat' was done by Sybil Andrews in 1930. It sold for £19,000

Speedway riders by Sybil Andrews dating from 1934, it sold for £32,000

Steeplechase by Sybil Andrews. It sold for £21,000

The Gale, a linocut of windswept figures by Cybil Andrews. It sold for £13.500



Anonymous M B Power said...

These are indeed interesting iconic images. A exhibition of these works are currently touring USA. There is also a book on Cyril Power's linocuts published last year.

15 December 2009 at 10:11  
Anonymous D Goodwin said...

The Grosvenor School linocut artists did do wonderful work; and their work is now reproduced in limited editions, exceptionally well printed by The Bookroom Art Press. They have free delivery too:

22 April 2010 at 14:10  
Anonymous Jan Jenkins said...

Thank-you for sharing. I'm a beginner at making lino-cuts, your lino-cut history on these artists is inspirational.

25 December 2010 at 11:54  

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