'The later idols are overt combinations of abstract figures, primitive tools, modern objects and religious statues, exploring ideas of change and metamorphosis and the relationship between the past, present and...
'The later idols are overt combinations of abstract figures, primitive tools, modern objects and religious statues, exploring ideas of change and metamorphosis and the relationship between the past, present and future' - Amanda A. Davidson
In the early 1970s Turnbull ceased making sculpture for several years, instead turning his attention to painting. It was not until the Tate Gallery organised a massive retrospective of the artist's work, curated by Richard Morphet, that Turnbull returned to the discipline. Spanning a thirty-year career, the exhibition gave Turnbull a chance to reflect and an opportunity to reassess his works' evolution. Many pieces from his early days in Paris and subsequently in London, when he exhibited with the Independent Group, were collected together for this exhibition allowing Turnbull to see these works again after many years. Inspired, Turnbull returned to sculpture, looking to combine the spontaneity of creation that he found in the 1950s with a refined subtlety of shape, texture and colour.
Female, 1989, is a striking example of his later sculptures, which builds on the Idol series he created from 1955-1957. Here, Turnbull explores his long-standing interest in metamorphosis, drawing on a series of Western and non-Western references. During this time ancient tool forms and Cycladic figures coalesce, creating mystically imbued utilitarian objects, which are often referenced in the titles of his works, with classical names such as Agamemnon, Oedipus and Leda. Here Turnbull references the female figure, a subject he would continue to explore throughout his life. Turnbull abstracts his figure's form, delineating her arm as curvilinear handle like shapes, which protrude from her slender torso. Her hair serves as a corrugated fin-like form, which juts from her small triangular head, which is almost unrecognisable apart from the narrow point of a nose, while her other features, such as her hands and breasts, are reduced to a series of scored lines to the surface. The lack of narrative, along with the attention to surface, which is scored and pockmarked creating a battered and weathered appearance, give the work a timeless quality, which references ancient totemic works. Morphet has suggested that Turnbull's figures 'communicated a primitive idea of man', which can be seen here in Female.
Amanda Davidson expands, 'Many of these new idols are highly abstracted figures, created from simple forms. However, rather than reduced the range of images and interpretations of the works, this simplification of the shapes and the smoother textures of these idols has intensified their effect. By reducing any naturalistic element to a minimum, this formal concentration focuses attention on the symbolic flexibility of the works and the archetypical nature of their shapes'
As in Female, Turnbull's works are often unambiguously frontal, as Ancient Greek and Egyptian art. This stands in contrast to sculptors of the period, such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, who was concerned with a rotating viewpoint and so designed their works to unfold themselves as the viewer walks around them. Richard Morphet explains, 'Turnbull, like Giacometti, was more concerned with establishing an arresting, frontal image (as Giacometti once said, you don't walk around a person you meet, so why do it in sculpture?), one which tends to dominate space and radiate out into it' . This was expressed by the artist himself who stated in an article published in 1968, 'The work must be perceived instantly, not read in time'.
The Estate of the Artist
London, Waddington Galleries, William
Turnbull, Recent Sculpture, 25 September - 19 October 1991, cat. no.10, another
cast illus. p25
Caracas, Galeria Freites, William Turnbull, 18 October - 10 November
1992, another cast illus. in colour p25
Berlin, Galerie Michael Haas, William Turnbull, 17 October - 28 Nov
1992, (another cast, not illus.)
Munich, Galerie Thomas, William
Turnbull: Skulpturen, 5 April - 19 June 2002, illus. colour p6, 2/6
London, Waddington Galleries, William Turnbull, Recent Sculpture,
September - October 1991, pp 24-25, 52, cat no. 10, another cast exhibited
Caracas, Galeria Freites, William Turnbull, October - November
1992, catalogue not traced
Berlin, Galerie Michael Haas, William
Turnbull, October - November 1992, another cast exhibited
Munich, Galerie Thomas, William Turnbull:
Sculpture, April - June 2002, exhibition not numbered, another cast
West Bretton, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, William
Turnbull: Retrospective 1946 - 2003, May - October 2005, exhibition not
numbered, another cast exhibited
London, Waddington Galleries, William
Turnbull Beyond Time, June - July 2010, cat no.19, another cast exhibited
Amanda A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull - Catalogue Raisonée, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, 2005, cat no.265, p176 illus b/w
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