Sunrise in the West (1926) reveals an intelligent writer; The Quattro Cento (1932) presents a great art writer. How did it come about that in this short period Adrian Stokes’s writing underwent this radical transformation? We answer that question by doing a close reading comparing and contrasting two examples of his art writing: the account of Giorgione’s Castelfranco Madonna (1505); and the description of the lavabo attributed to Verrocchio in the Old Sacristy, San Lorenzo, Florence. This analysis offers some tentative lessons about how scholarship devoted to Stokes might develop.
On reading the notes and drafts that became the Quattro Cento, it is difficult to know where the limits of its first chapter, ‘Jesi’, are located, and this is perhaps its most significant quality. In its final form, it becomes heavily condensed from a theoretical meditation on the possibility of expression, to a coagulated mass of conflicting textural impressions. Through a close reading of this highly visceral passage and its development in Stokes’s early notebooks, this paper will analyse the political and critical struggle for expression that is latently buried in the form and texture of his ‘materials’. In particular, it will focus on the conflict between stone and stuccoed surfaces, the spectre of earlier tensions between content and form, and the effect of their respective emptiness and density on Jesi’s ability to speak. By turns embodying ‘somnolence’ and ‘garrulousness’, its structures make a case for the relationship between the mouth and its ‘contents’ that tries to resolve two incapacities: the inability of content to speak of its own volition, and the tendency of expressive form to suppress its substance. Emerging from this exploration of ‘substantial speech’, this paper will also question the role of Stokes’s style in itself, what his dense and metamorphic language means for his aesthetic attitudes, and what Jesi’s shape-shifting might say about his own political and writerly conflicts.
‘Writing, Speaking, Feeling: Adrian Stokes’s Art Writing and the Carving Aim’
This paper proposes that Adrian Stokes’s art writing is best explained in terms of his core idea, the carving principle, established in 1934. The fundamental aim encapsulated in the carving principle is to engage in a continual process of ego-integration, which Stokes consistently applies throughout his subsequent writing career. It is further suggested that this fundamental basis to the critical writing can also be detected in his psychoanalytic writing, and even in his private correspondence. In particular, the paper explores the carving principle at work in Stokes’s psychoanalytic paper, ‘Form in Art’ (1955), and in his correspondence with fellow critic, David Sylvester. Through various examples, it is shown that Stokes’s writing can be viewed as the multiple expression of a single aim: to write and to speak with an extraordinary clarity and precision as a counterpoint to the ‘plasticity’ of twentieth-century excess. The paper concludes that this remarkably stable core principle underlying Stokes’s art writing explains its power and clarity and allows us to ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ the carving aim alongside apprehending it intellectually.
The paper explores the interrelations between architecture and the graphic arts in the milieu of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and the Independent Group in 1950s Britain, and the evolution of a Kleinian aesthetics of space and surface. It looks at these themes through a significant, yet unpublished, text by Adrian Stokes (Tate Archive) consisting of typed sheets (with hand-annotated notes and deletions). This document was the basis of a lecture titled ‘The Prime Influence of Buildings on the Graphic Arts’ that Stokes gave at the ICA in February 1956. Thus, this lecture came after Stokes’s major studies on architectonic surface and corporeality: Smooth and Rough( 1951) and Michelangelo (1955), books deeply influenced by the theories of the Melanie Klein object-relations school of psychoanalysis. In contrast to the rather dense texts of these published works, the lecture is valuable in presenting a lucid summary of Stokes’s views on the interrelation of architecture and the graphic arts. His leading thesis was that modernist painting ‘[compensates] for the loss of textures in our streets’ within a post-industrial urban scenario drained of aura and tactility. In Stokes’s phenomenology a canvas becomes skin-like, and the building metaphorises the body: cobbled street, peeling wall, canvas and low relief can be experienced as one architectonic extension. Significantly, 1956 also saw the This is Tomorrow exhibition, that reverberant statement of the young Turks of the ICA, that also sought a synthesis of architecture, the graphic arts, and sculpture. From around 1951, the architect Colin St John Wilson (1922–2007) had been an enthusiastic reader and interpreter of Stokes, and his collaborative pavilion for this exhibition is examined as a rigorous working-out of such a synthesis under the significant influence of Stokes’s evolving Kleinian aesthetic.
‘Stokes and Archival Research: Deafness of the Mind (and Ear)’
In this paper I draw on my experience of cataloguing the Stokes archive in 1998 to explore how its materials can be integrated with other historical documents to gain a better historical understanding of his place in British aesthetic criticism. I then examine a relay of echoes from twentieth-century authors who are audible in his response to Verrocchio and Donatello who have so far passed beneath the radar of ‘influences’ routinely attributed to him. Stokes was a consciously allusive writer who drew attention to his involvement in disorderly historical processes and debates even as he sought to evolve powerful and lasting continuities of outlook from his earliest works. To be deaf to what the archive can reveal about his intertextuality is to be blind to his development as a visual thinker, historian and critic and to indulge instead, as he put it in a colourful phrase, in ‘one-armed golfing’ about his contribution.
Writings about Adrian Stokes’s psychoanalysis by Melanie Klein reveal psychological factors (as well as early twentieth-century developments in the visual arts) contributing to Stokes’s innovative and influential carving aesthetic, emphasising the responsiveness of artists to the physical material of their art in creating it. In outlining some of these factors I draw on documents, some of which are in the Tate Archive, recounting Klein’s psychoanalysis of Stokes prior to the first publication of his carving aesthetic in October 1933.
‘The ‘Inner Light’ of Colour: Adrian Stokes on his own Painting’
Adrian Stokes wrote about his own paintings quite seldom. There are some insights in his personal correspondence, notably in that with Edward Sackville-West and there is information on his views on hanging his own still lifes in a letter to Ben Nicholson. There is a note published by Studio International in 1973, a canticle to the modesty of his aims. Apart from that, his paintings are illuminated by some of his ideas, notably the ‘carving conception’ that exalts the capacity of things to appear almost above what in fact they are. In his later writing he increasingly dwells on the ‘integrity of things, the free-standingness, the wholeness … of things outside ourselves’ (Andrew Forge), as a salve against being boiled away by the acids of subjectivity. The paintings, of course, make no argument but implicitly seem borne on his thinking. I touch on his choice of still life as a main subject, his various ways of eliciting light out of his dull, earth colours, terre verte, oxide brown etc., and how he managed to keep his paintings in a state of translucency, which is extremely difficult with oil paint. I ask whether an aesthetic based on sorrowful reparation of loss is entirely adequate for Stokes’s own marvellous sense of beauty.
The paper will consider a brief unpublished text by Adrian Stokes held in the Tate Archive (TGA 8816.167), written in St Ives in the autumn of 1942. In particular, it will consider his claim, made in a letter to his friend the poet Joseph Macleod (National Library of Scotland), that this represented ‘a summing up of all I have ever thought incorporating experience of six years of daily psycho-analysis’. An examination of its intertextual links with, on the one hand, ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’, Stokes’s fifty-page early wartime work-in-progress and matrix of Inside Out (1947), and, on the other, the writings of the later war years will attempt to demonstrate the justice of the whole of Stokes’s formula. In the process it will be seen how archival material of this kind throws light on the peculiar character of Stokes as a thinker and writer, one continually engaged in retrospective revision and comprehensive adjustment of stance, idea and expression. In the light of such intertextual investigation the acknowledged debt to psychoanalysis is well described as one of ‘incorporation’.
Susanna Avery-Quash, Research Curator in the History of Collecting, National Gallery, London
Stephen Bann, Emeritus Professor of History of Art, University of Bristol
David Carrier, Adjunct Professor of History of Art, University of Pittsburgh
Martin Golding, Fellow, Peterhouse, University of Cambridge
Christopher Griffin, Collection Research Manager, Tate
Martin Hammer, Professor of History and Philosophy of Art, University of Kent
Kirsten Haywood, PhD candidate, University of East Anglia
Paul Hills, Emeritus Professor, Courtauld Institute of Art
David Hulks, Lecturer, Colchester School of Art
Margaret Iversen, Professor of Art History, University of Essex
Stephen Kite, Reader, Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University
Nigel Llewellyn, Head of Research, Tate
Jennifer Mundy, Head of Collection Research, Tate
Oliver Soskice, painter
Max Saunders, Professor of English, King’s College London
Janet Sayers, Professor of Psychoanalytic Psychology, University of Kent
Philip Stokes, son of Adrian Stokes
Telfer Stokes, artist and son of Adrian Stokes
Paul Tucker, Researcher in the History of Art Criticism, University of Florence