Cut to the chase
Capturing the dynamism and excitement of the modern age became a common artistic goal in the inter-war years. One British group succeeded in the unlikeliest of mediums: lino.
Saturday 27 November 1999
Claude Flight saw the humble linocut as a way of creating images that would capture the movement and excitement of city life in Twenties and Thirties Britain. A Modernist, his enthusiasm won him an impressive following at the Grosvenor School of Art in London's Pimlico, where he taught during this period. Flight attracted students from around the globe, including Switzerland and Australia. The school was founded in 1925 by the painter and wood engraver Iain McNab, in a building at 33 Warwick Square (in later years it would be renamed the Warwick Arts Trust). Others who worked at the Grosvenor included Cyril E Power, who lectured on architecture, and the young Sybil Andrews, the school secretary. Both would become skilled linocut artists.
Capturing the styles of the Art Deco period, the Grosvenor artists enjoyed great popularity: there were regular shows and exhibitions at home and abroad. After the Second World War, however, their star waned, but now a new show, at the suitably Deco De la Warr Pavilion, will celebrate their extraordinary achievements.
`Modernity: British Colour Linocuts of the Twenties and Thirties', runs until 23 January at the De la Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex (01424 787900).
The new machine age
Claude Flight encouraged his students to capture the dynamism and energy of "the new machine age" and so he sent them to the London Underground (top right, Cyril E Power's Whence & Whither, c.1930); car race tracks such as Brooklands; sports meetings (right, Power's The Runner, 1930) - rugby, soccer, dirt-track racing; ice rinks (above, Power's Skaters, c.1932); fairgrounds to see the roller coasters and merry-go-rounds; and the streets of London to record buses hurtling along. Key Grosvenor School members Cyril E Power and Sybil Andrews at one time worked on commissions for London Transport posters that encouraged the public to use the Tube to reach sporting venues: racing at Epsom, tennis at Wimbledon, cricket at Lords and the Oval. sketchbook 2
Art for everyone
Linoleum is a blend of ground cork, linseed oil and resin on a canvas back, it is malleable and easy to design and cut an image on, and it does not require expensive machinery to print an impression. Although it does not lend itself to minute detail, linoleum was perfect for Flight's visual language of lively abstract design and seductive, decorative colour. Superimposed layers allowed the picture to be gradually built up, and with careful planning a number of colours could be created. Flight saw the medium of linocut as an "art for everyone". He suggested that one of the fundamental tools of the linocutter, the gauge, could be made from the rib of an old umbrella; that a rubbing tool could be fashioned from laminated plywood; that an old spoon could be utilised as a burnisher; and that an inexpensive gelatine roller would suffice. The methods of Flight's students are displayed in the images on this page, clockwise, from top left: Cyril E Power's The Giant Racer, c.1930 and The Tube Station, c.1932; and Sybil Andrews' Racing, 1934. n
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