Male & Female, 1954
Signed and dated verso
Oil and sand on canvas
37 5/8 x 29 3/4 in, 95.5 x 75.5 cm
'Male & Female' is representative of William Turnbull’s figurative sculpture and paintings from the 1950s, in which he created highly exaggerated and abstracted images of the human form. The composition...
'Male & Female' is representative of William Turnbull’s figurative sculpture and paintings from the 1950s, in which he created highly exaggerated and abstracted images of the human form. The composition foreshadows his later monotype painting 'Acrobat and Female' (1955), held at the Tate Collection in London, in which he captures the movement of Giacometti-like figures.
During the 1950s Turnbull was one of a number of artists, including Paolozzi and Armitage, who produced self-consciously “primitive” sculptures and paintings. Turnbull had been fascinated by cave paintings since visiting the Lascaux caves in France before the war. Inspired by these images, including those which created an illusion of animals moving, he began to explore the language of signs and symbols. He said of his work from this period: 'I wanted to make sculpture that would express implication of movement (not describe it), ambiguity of content, and simplicity.' Here the figures have been stripped down to their essential shapes, painted in earthy tones onto a background of sand and appear in the same series of motions as in Acrobat and Female.
Like Paolozzi and Henderson, whom he met at the Slade School of Art, Turnbull lived in Paris between 1948 and 1950. Here he visited the studio of Alberto Giacometti and began to emulate the spidery aesthetic of Giacometti’s sculptures, using plaster and thin wire armatures to create skeletal figures. Similarly, in paintings such as 'Male & Female' his figures appear as fragile creatures, in direct contrast to Henry Moore’s smooth, opulent and polished figures. There is an angst-ridden aesthetic to post-war works such as this, which the critic Herbert Read described as “the geometry of fear” in his review of the ground-breaking 1952 Venice Biennale show ‘New Aspects of British Sculpture’ at which Turnbull exhibited.