Victor Newsome

Broken Cross

1964

Not on display
Artist
Victor Newsome born 1935
Medium
Wood, aluminium, glass and lacquer
Dimensions
Object: 920 x 710 x 270 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 2013
Reference
T13880

Summary

Broken Cross 1964 is an aluminium and lacquered wood structure. The broken cross of the title is an ‘X’, the arms of which are hinged and can be opened and closed. In its closed state one edge of the upper right arm is described not by a hinged box flap but by painted dowelling rods and the ‘X’ as a whole appears black. In its open state the surface of the ‘X’ is revealed as an incised and burnished aluminium sheet that has been fitted onto the wooden hinged box structure. In this state it is the lower right arm of the ‘X’ that is broken, a section of the aluminium sheet cut away to reveal the red lacquer surface of the box. Between the upper arms of the ‘X’ a circle of red glass road sign reflectors has been mounted onto a recessed section of aluminium panel. Such use of found materials was common in Newsome’s constructions, and the inclusion here of a material with a reflective quality (and additionally a material that has recognisably been part of a sign) is an example of how fragments of an urban environment could be taken and invested with an emotive power.

Broken Cross embodies a key aspect of Newsome’s early work. With little obvious reference to the human body, constructed works such as this achieve a quality of fetishism through their finish (most noticeably the use of lacquer, which had been suggested by Newsome’s colleague at Leicester School of Art, Tom Hudson, and the contrasting materials and surface) and through their projection of totemic power. These are clearly defined objects – for Newsome they had a hermetic quality that he identified with jewellery – and yet their figuration is ambiguous. This is also the case with works such as Two Craters (Two Blind Holes) 1963 (Tate T13879). In 1964 Newsome characterised works like Broken Cross as:

evocative rather than representational. Its presence is actual rather than illusionistic, in the way that tables and doors and cabinets are actual and uncompromising. It deals with two aspects of the duality of figurative symbolism (which itself is a duality). With symbols of the figure and parts of the figure, as found in everyday objects such as pots and pans and motor cars, and with the figure as a symbol of the duality of opposites such as love and war, comedy and horror, serenity and lust.
(Artist’s statement in Grabowski Gallery 1964, unpaginated.)

For Newsome, the potential for change in these hinged constructions was concerned with capturing that duality found through ‘magic-animation and evocation’; he explained that the work should not be located in terms of kinetic art but arose from ‘an idea which came to me whilst looking at the moon – about life and death, waking and sleep, day and night, and the changing aspect of things’ (Artist’s statement in Grabowski Gallery 1966, unpaginated).

Between 1962 and 1963 Newsome taught at Leicester School of Art under Tom Hudson, then Head of Foundation Studies, alongside a number of artists who became known as the Leicester Group – notably Christina Bertoni, Laurence Burt, Michael Chilton, Michael Sandle and Terry Setch. They exhibited together as a group in 1963 in an exhibition at Leicester Museum and then the following year in an exhibition curated by the critic Jasia Reichardt at the Grabowski Gallery in London, under the title The Inner Image. Making objects rather than sculptures, these artists, Reichardt argued, produce work that is ‘abstract to a degree … not directly evocative of any definite subject, but they often make oblique allusions to something quite specific’, noting how Newsome in particular creates ‘effigies representing the personal responses to very diverse themes which are often simultaneously socio-philosophical comments on the world at large’ (Jasia Reichardt, ‘The Leicester Group’, in Grabowski Gallery 1964, unpaginated).

Reichardt explained how removed the artists of the Leicester Group were from the prevailing trends of contemporary art found in London – action painting, large-scale non-tactile abstraction, hard-edge painting, new figuration, optical painting and kinetic art – allying them solely to broad categories of ‘object-making and assemblage’ (Reichardt 1964, unpaginated). Even though they were involved in popular culture and the stuff of the urban environment, they did not approach such sources in a celebratory way but instead in terms of ‘cryptic hints and symbolic references’ (Reichardt 1964, unpaginated). Newsome’s transformations of body and machine echo similar explorations found within pop art, but the totemic power of Broken Cross – a road sign fragment acting as a head – or the fetishistic sensuality of the slightly earlier Two Craters (Two Blind Holes) also bridge a gap between pop and the personal obsessions previously unlocked through surrealism.

Broken Cross was exhibited in Victor Newsome at the Grabowski Gallery in 1966.

Further reading
The Inner Image, exhibition catalogue, Grabowski Gallery, London 1964.
Victor Newsome, exhibition catalogue, Grabowski Gallery, London 1966, no.6.
Transition: The Inner Image Revisited, exhibition catalogue, Art Space Gallery, London 2011.

Andrew Wilson
December 2012

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