Cutting Edge : Modernist British Printmaking

Cutting Edge : Modernist British Printmaking


Between the wars, there emerged a radical and vibrant art movement in Britain called Modernism, using the medium of lino-cut. You may think that Speed and Flight were just two of the subjects touched on, along with Urban Living, At Work and Play, and Pastoral Life, but Claude Flight and Cyril Speed were at the forefront of this new art-form, that had its roots in the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, which emerged from Futurism, Cubism, and Vorticism, which itself collapsed at the outbreak of war. The School was founded by a Scottish wood engraver Ian Macnab in 1925, and amongst other students were Sybil Andrews, Lill Tschudi, William Greengsass and Leonard Beaumont. The exhibition opens with David Bomberg’s Russian Ballet series, Christopher Nevinson’s The Bomber lithograph, Paul Nash’s Void of War and Edward Wadsworth, who famously produced those black and white woodcuts of the Dazzle Ships in Dry Dock

Other galleries display woodcuts with the subjects Town and Country, On the Move, and, finally, London Transport, which includes some classic examples commissioned by its legendary Managing Director Frank Pick, to advertise sporting events that could be reached via the underground and bus networks.The relative simplicity of the linocut technique was ideally suited to portraying modern city life and reflected the energy of contemporary living, which was readily recognisable to the man-in-the street, both at work and play. Each subject has its own dynamic and rhythm, from the extraordinarily exuberant Merry-Go-Round by Cyril Power to the dramatic Sledgehammers by Sybil Andrews, reminiscent of the dramatic scene in the 1941 film Dumbo, where the roustabouts and elephants struggle to put up the big top during a storm. Everyday occupations, like Lill Tschud’s Fixing the Wires, with two men up a telegraph pole, and Sybil Andrews’s The Gear Cable, with seven men working in harmony, are examples of dynamism and energy portrayed through simple graphic expediency. Sporting endeavours are particularly well-suited to the linocut style, whether rowers stretching themselves to the limit in Power’s The Eight, or a streamlined and fluid racing car in his Speed Trial, to Andrews’ astonishing Speedway and elegant Full Cry with runners, sledgers, skiers, ice hockey and tennis players, horse riders, skaters, cricketers, gymnasts, rugby players and footballers all featuring heavily. When it comes to leisure, the circus, jazz bands, orchestral concerts and dancing girls, sit alongside Parisian Café by Tschudi, Tea Under Umbrellas by Greengrass, people dancing and Wet Afternoon by Ethel Spowers. Landscapes are also given the linocut treatment and work surprisingly well, with examples from Dorrit Black, Eveline Syme and William Greengrass, and a stunning Windmill by Sybil Andrews, a whirling pattern of movement and energy.

Commuting provides great scope for more dynamic imagery depicting motion and travel in On the Move, with possibly the most iconic and best-known impression of city travel, Cyril Power’s The Tube Station. Alongside the final print are six proofs in pale blue, dark blue, green, red, chinese blue and all the colours together, which gives the visitor the perfect example of how the process works. His studies of escalators Whence and Whither, or The Cascade, bring to mind scenes from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, while Claude Flight’s Speed, with an open-topped bus careering down Regent’s Street, celebrates the bustle of modern life in the city. Power’s The Tube Train could have been done yesterday, and not 85 years ago, except that in the mid-thirties, everyone wore a hat and would be absorbed in their newspapers rather than on their mobile phones. In this scene, one can make out the patterned upholstery commissioned by Pick and designed by Marion Dorn in the 1930s, known as ‘Colindale Moquette’. More sport in the final gallery comprising posters designed for London Transport by Andrew-Power, which was the composite signature of Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power. Although one can detect the stylistic characteristics of each artist, they still presented the finished poster as a collaboration. The poster for the Epsom Derby, 1933 is definitively by Andrews, while the Football, Cricket at Lord’s and the Oval, and Wimbledon, featuring the French tennis star Jean Borota, would have been penned by Power. London Transport  tried to lure sports fans to watch cricket, football, horse racing and tennis at Wimbledon with the sheer elegance of these sportsmen and they were also encouraging people to hire a bus or coach to get to places further afield, like the Aldershot Tattoo. 

Cutting Edge : Modernist British Printmaking

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Until 8 September 2019

Admission £16.50


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