A longside Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull, Geoffrey Clarke’s work was shown to great acclaim at the 1952 Venice Biennale. Presented as the new generation of British sculptors that had emerged following the Second World War, Herbert Reed coined the famous phrase ‘geometry of fear’ to describe the collective impact of their sculpture which seemed to ‘belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance’. Clarke’s work from the period such as Man (lot 90) created from welded sheet metal certainly exemplifies the bold new sculptural language which these artists had developed using alternative materials and methods which were very much in contrast to the modelling techniques of Henry Moore who was also shown at the Venice Biennale that year. In 1952, Clarke was also selected to be involved with one of the greatest post-war British architectural commissions – Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral. He later contributed the cross and candlesticks for the high altar and designed three of the ten windows in the nave.
Clarke readily experimented with materials and with commissions coming in thick and fast, he began to trial different modes of creating pieces quickly and cost effectively. He began open-casting in sand and turned to making models in polystyrene and then casting them in aluminium which gave the finished works a wonderfully silvery patina as seen in Two Troughs & Flat Bar II (lot 91), Pilgrim (lot 92), Path (lot 93) and Form (lot 94). He began with casting in a small sandbox in the barn of his Suffolk house and this quickly grew into a larger operation with multiple assistants on hand to help.
Developing the figurative focus of much of his work from the 1950s, Clarke began to move in a more abstract direction and a large-scale commission in the early 1960s for the London County Council’s open-air exhibition at Battersea Park in 1963 was the genesis for an ongoing exploration of the reclining form which resulted in an entirely abstract horizontal sculpture.
The human figure was reduced to a wonderfully elegant curvilinear sculpture and this new mode of delineating form is clear in later pieces such as Path 1 (lot 93) and Form (lot 94) whilst Two Troughs & Flat Bar II (lot 91) clearly relates to the Battersea Park commission in its horizontal emphasis.
Despite moving in a more abstract direction, the human figure continued to play a central role in his work and this is perhaps most appropriately summed up by his Pilgrim series such as lot 92 where the lone pilgrim stands at the centre of the sculpture; human form surrounded by the abstracted world around him. Indeed, it is one of this Pilgrim series that was chosen for the front cover of his sculpture catalogue raisonné published in 2017.
Although most well-known for his sculpture, printmaking was also an on-going interest for Clarke and he very much approached each composition with a three-dimensional eye thriving on the complex multi-layered process of positive and negative images that contribute to a final print. Warrior II (lot 95) dates to 1956 and strongly relates to his sculpture from the period, the saturated areas of black pigment shaping the warrior form in much the same way that he fashioned sheet metal to create the dynamic figure of Man (lot 90).