Obituary: Sybil Andrews
Monday 28 December 1992
SYBIL ANDREWS devoted herself to art and in particular to the art of the linocut in a life lasting almost 95 years. Half of this life was spent in Campbell River, a remote logging and fishing centre on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where she lived after emigrating to Canada with her husband in 1947. Although she had always painted, her primary interest from the late 1920s was the colour linocut and its advancement. She made 76, more than half of them between 1929 and 1939. 'Rural work' was her main theme, drawing on her experiences and memories of agricultural life in her native county of Suffolk. They evoke a pre-industrial age far removed from the urban dynamism of the 20th century but none the less firmly by design in the century.
Sybil Andrews was born in 1898 in Bury St Edmunds, a town with which the East Anglian Andrews family had long-established links. One of her ancestors was Walter Tyrrell, who was accused of the death of King William Rufus by 'the glancing of an arrow'. Another was presented at the time of Trafalgar with a lock of Nelson's hair, which, in 1970, Sybil presented in turn to the National Maritime Museum.
'We had a paint-box from the cradle,' she recalled, 'not with the idea of being wonderful artists, but as a way of keeping us quiet and amused.' She remembered her first proper paint-box with china containers for the watercolour and going to the local school of art and drawing from the plaster casts. Her proper start in art occurred in the last weeks of the First World War, when she was employed as an oxyacetylene welder in an aircraft factory making parts for the Bristol fighter - she signed up for John Hassall's Art Correspondence Course, which she did in her spare time.
After the war she went to Heatherley's School of Fine Art. There, under Henry Massey, the Principal, she did 'two years' study in one'. She met Henri Glicenstein, a Polish sculptor who taught her to draw from life and to study drypoint etching. She also met Cyril Power, an architect and artist 20 years her senior - the start of an artistic partnership which lasted until the outbreak of the Second World War. From Heatherley's she was introduced to the newly opened Grosvenor School of Modern Art, where, to earn her keep, she became its first secretary. Ian McNabb was Principal and there she met Claude Flight, whose ideas coincided with her interest in printing from blocks - it was he who made the linocut become the medium for her. She soon realised that the lino block imposed its own disciplines and characteristic style. She said that the number of blocks used was like a madrigal with Soprano, Treble, Tenor and Bass.
Of late there has been increasing interest in Sybil Andrews's work, particularly that done in the years preceding the war when she was connected with Flight and the Grosvenor School. She was a member of the clearly defined group of his pupils which included Edith Lawrence, whom Flight met in 1920 and with whom he formed a close partnership, lasting until his death in 1955; Lill Tschudi, a Swiss student who had also studied with Andre L'Hote and Gino Severini; the New Zealander Eileen Mayo; William Greengrass and Cyril Power.
Claude Flight - 'the only true Futurist that this country has produced' - was an important champion of modern art. He had been introduced to the work of the Futurists by CRW Nevinson, a fellow student at Heatherley's, which Flight had begun attending in 1912. When he resumed painting after the interruption of the war the impact of Cubism and Futurism is clearly discernible in his subject-matter and technique. His mature work is characterised by a concern with the speed and movement of modern city life.
As a teacher at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, Flight opened his pupils' eyes to the principal modern art movements at a time when resistance to cross-Channel influence was widespread. 'We were the avant-garde in those days,' wrote Andrews.
Flight was a pioneer of the linocut technique, then an underrated art-form. He organised and exhibited with the annual Exhibition of British Linocuts held at the Redfern Gallery from 1929 to 1937, and published several books on the subject. The necessary simplicity and boldness of design required by the linocut technique characterised both his own and his pupils' work and exerted an important influence on the artistic tastes of later generations.
Sybil Andrews exhibited regularly between 1928 and 1937 at the Redfern and Ward Galleries. She shared a one-man show with Cyril Power in January 1933 at the Redfern Gallery. After the last Redfern show Andrews moved, in 1938, to the New Forest. With the outbreak of war she was engaged in boatbuilding, working in the yard of the British Power Boat Company at Hythe, near Southampton. Even this experience was turned to good artistic account: 'To me it was a wonderful experience. We were given training and then set to work into the yards and on the boats side by side with the men. I asked if I could be given permission to make notes of the boats being built for me to work on after the war, and to my astonishment I was given authority to make sketches.' After the war Andrews used these sketches for a series of seven canvases now in the RAF Museum, Hendon.
In the shipyard Andrews met Walter Morgan; they married in 1947. After the war when, as she says, 'everything was at sixes and sevens at home', they felt they wanted a new start and decided to emigrate to Canada. Walter had always wanted to go to British Columbia and they headed for the sea, finally settling in the remote Campbell River where, in true pioneer fashion, they built their own wooden house. This included a central flue for the fire made out of old Huntley & Palmer biscuit- tins soldered together by Walter. For nearly the next half-century Sybil worked hard painting and teaching. She endeavoured to bring out the individual way of seeing of each of her pupils: 'My teaching grew just as a plant or tree grows, leaf by leaf, branch by branch, and a tree takes a lifetime in its growing.'
Sybil Andrews's work has not gone unrecognised in Canada. She was a member of the Canadian Painter Etchers and the Print and Drawing Council of Canada. She exhibited at Vancouver and Victoria Art Galleries and had work purchased by Canadian public galleries as well as by the British Museum, the V & A, the Contemporary Art Society, and the Los Angeles Museum. She featured in the exhibition of 'Claude Flight and his Circle' at my gallery, the Parkin Gallery, in London in 1975 and in another in 1978 which also toured Italy under the title Futuristi Inglesi. In 1982-83 she was Canada gave her a major retrospective that toured the country and was organised by the Glenbow Museum, Alberta. In 1990 she was contributed to the British Museum's 'Avant-Garde British Printmaking 1914-1960' exhibition, and in April this year to another exhibition, 'Claude Flight and his Followers', which continues to the Australia National Gallery.
Andrews made generous gifts of her work to Canada, Australia, the British Museum and the Clock House Museum, Bury St Edmunds. She retained her enthusiasm to the end, and was still teaching her art class in Campbell River last month. An avid correspondent, she continually referred accurately to places in Norfolk and Suffolk from 60 years ago. I first met her 20 years ago after a long journey to Campbell River. I was proud to be a friend.
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