Amanda A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull, The Henry Moore Foundation and Lund Humphries, 2005, cat no.226, illus b/w
Born in Dundee, Scotland, William Turnbull received recognition at an early age. Having studied at the Slade School, he took up residence in London in 1950, the year that his first solo show was held at Hanover Gallery. Two years later he had the honour of being included in the British Pavilion at the 1952 Venice Biennale.
He worked equally effectively in painting and sculpture and in 1973 a retrospective of his work was held at the Tate Gallery. This opportunity of seeing such a range of his work grouped together, from his student work of the 1940s to the steel sculptures that he had been working on in the early 1970s, prompted him to reassess the direction of his work. This led him to producing a series of small clay figures, which, in the late 1970s, he began to cast in bronze and work into slightly larger forms.
Venus belongs to a group of works that suggest human scale and have a totemic quality, related to Cycladic art. Turnbull has scored lines into the surface, inviting the viewer to look closely at the sculpture and ‘read’ these markings, however, no key or code is provided and therefore any message remains undiscovered and open to a multitude of interpretations. The indecipherable quality of these markings suggests an ancient and now unknown language but the sharpness of their execution belies their recent application.
Turnbull has compared the markings to tattoos commenting, ‘from the very beginning of time, people have decorated their bodies. They tattoo themselves, they paint their eyes and lips’ (quoted in A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull, Much Hadham, 2005, p. 68) and he has also described them as, ‘a symbolic way of taking your eyes around the sculpture’ (ibid.).