When movement is the subject
THE depiction of movement has always posed a problem for painters and sculptors, especially when what was desired was an image of great speed. It wasn't so difficult in drawing, where the rapid swing of chalk or brush, or the dash of wash on paper, could echo the swift flight of birds, the charge of a war-horse, or the efforts of a runner to win a race. In painting, things were much more complicated, and in sculpture they were near to impossible. Paint, if shrewdly applied, could at least suggest motion, and could give the impression of intense activity. With sculpture, such illusions were much more difficult to create. The medium, at least before this century, tended to be uncompromisingly stationary. Attempts to depict speed inevitably resulted in works that appeared stiff and frozen in time.
Things began to change dramatically around 1910, however, with the emergence of Futurism, and its insistence that the dynamic forces of nature could indeed be given precise pictorial form. Although not entirely successful in its intentions, Boccioni's monumental bronze sculpture of a striding figure, ``Unique Forms of Continuity in Space,'' did at least indicate that three-dimensional art need not remain fixed in time and space. Balla's famous painting of a small dog walking rapidly beside its mistress,
``Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,'' on the other hand, as well as several large canvases by Carra and Rusolo, did manage to convey the sense of movement as well as its appearance.
Duchamp's ``Nude Descending a Staircase'' was another milestone in this century's attempt to make action itself the subject of art. The Duchamp painting, together with examples by, among others, Picasso, Marc, Malevich, Goncharova, and Gonz'alez, was a major force in expanding modernism's formal vocabulary. No other artist, however, had quite the effect on his medium that Alexander Calder had on his. By freeing sculpture once and for all from its traditional stationary position on a pedestal, he a ffected the course of three-dimensional art and gave it a liveliness and wit it had never before been able to project.
The younger generations of artists were only too happy to accept whatever more efficient expressive devices their elders discovered, and they either used them until even more effective ones came along or incorporated them permanently into their own work. Before long, these new methods, which had derived originally from highly advanced and even revolutionary theories, had become the common currency of most beginning painters and sculptors. By the mid-'20s, modernism was old and rich enough to provi de a wide range of source material. One could draw from it as one wished, taking a bit of Cubism here, a touch of Constructivism or Futurism there, and then integrating that with whatever other novel or more traditional styles suited the subject in hand.
Sybil Andrews, an art student in London at that time, knew exactly which modernist formal strategies she wanted to employ, having made up her mind after seeing the Cubist and Futurist-inspired linocuts of Claude Flight. She had been looking for an approach that would produce a simplified and concentrated welding of theme and structure and permit her to depict movement, power, drama, and conflict in small, compact images. After studying Flight's work and discussing his theories with him, she felt she had
found the essential clues to what she needed.
She already knew she was not interested in form for form's sake, that she was neither a theoretician nor a purist, that she was, in fact, only an artist on the lookout for the simplest and most direct way to articulate her feelings and ideas in a clear, graphic format. In Flight's shrewdly eclectic appropriation of certain Cubist and Futurist devices, she found a pragmatic creative approach -- to say nothing of a perception of art -- that paralleled her own. And in his choice of the linocut as a primary
medium, she discovered someone whose predilection for small, carefully designed, and dramatically compact pictorial statements was very similar to hers.
She joined Flight's circle of artists, all of whom produced color linocuts and exhibited regularly at the Redfern Gallery in London. As a group, they were concerned with social reform and with disseminating some of the tenets of Futurism and of modernism in general. Since they were opposed to mechanization, all prints were pulled entirely by hand, resulting in rich, individualized impressions that are still prized today.
Andrews soon established a reputation for herself as a printmaker that has remained firm -- and that has actually grown over the past decade -- even though she has steadfastly kept out of the limelight since 1947, when she and her husband emigrated to a fairly remote region of British Columbia.
She is still hard at work there today, hand-printing her boldly patterned and sumptuously colored linocuts, which celebrate such things as skaters, horse racing, speeding motorcyclists, fox-hunters, storm-tossed trees and boats, workers hauling heavy loads, and other subjects pertaining to movement and dramatic action -- in a style that would not be quite the same had not certain revolutionary modernists made movement the subject of their art 75 years ago.