John Milne



Not on display

John Milne 1931–1978
Bronze on stone base
Object: 985 × 490 × 455 mm
Bequeathed by Andrew Burt 2019


Credo 1974 is a polished bronze cast sculpture whose smooth machined forms suggest an arm and claw thrusting forwards and upwards from a black stone base. One predominant element of Milne’s sculpture was an attention not only to a polished (rather than patinated) finish that can be seen in the majority of his work after 1967, but also the recognition that this finish went hand in hand with a severity and sharpness of edge and surface. Milne lived in St Ives, Cornwall from 1952 and was a studio assistant to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) in the early 1950s; yet, although his work was recognisably reliant on Hepworth’s modernist approach to transforming an idea of landscape and figure through sculpture, his approach was distinctive in the context of St Ives for its embrace of Mediterranean and African references – the fruit of frequent travel.

For the artist Denis Bowen (1921–2006), the polished and hard-edged qualities of works such as Credo provided one way of identifying a St Ives aesthetic, ‘where precision of craftsmanship and simplicity of form are structurally compounded’ (Denis Bowen, ‘John Milne’, Arts Review, October 1974). The historian and critic J.P. Hodin also alighted on this quality, as well as what he described as the ‘threatening points’ found in many of Milne’s sculptures – the claw-like forms of Credo or the two points of the jaw-like Gnathos 1960 (Tate T01449) for instance – as ‘expressive of a certain aggressiveness, predatory forms, which are an essential element of John Milne’s style. They can be interpreted on the one hand as the inner tensions of personal character…on the other hand with a general trend in a certain phase of contemporary art closely connected with the tragic events and public upheavals of our time.’ (Hodin 1977, p.84.)

Undoubtedly the most significant influence on Milne was that provided by Hepworth and her work. He was her pupil and assistant between 1952 and 1954, after which she encouraged him to stay in St Ives and in 1956 he set up home and studio in a house and garden next door to Hepworth’s (her studio had once been an outbuilding of his house). The often totemic nature of his work – fusing figure and landscape through abstraction – is testament to this link with Hepworth. However, Milne often approached his sculptures almost as emblematic images where, in Hodin’s words, ‘a shape becomes a significant sign, a hieroglyph, a pictogram’ (Hodin 1977, p.84.) From this perspective Credo embodies the threat of its claw-like elements, but its title also suggests a complementary metaphor for belief by which the claw-like forms can also be understood as hands moving together in prayer. This dichotomy is also reflected by Milne’s intention for the sculpture after he had made it – for it to be placed in St Ives church above the baptismal font as a memorial to Hepworth who had died in 1975 (Hodin 1977, p.66).

For the critic Michael Goedhuis, reviewing Milne’s 1974 solo exhibition at the Marjorie Parr Gallery, London, the centrepiece of which was Credo, ‘a preoccupation with openings into forms that partially enclose them runs through much of the work. It is its most interesting quality because the holes or gaps or openings contrast suggestively with the clean factual austerity of the enveloping form.’ (Michael Goedhuis, ‘John Milne’, Studio International, November 1974, p.12.) This can be recognised in the jawbone of Gnathos, the claw-like forms of Credo and, albeit in a somewhat different way, in the early bronze relief Les Baux 1959 (Tate T15360). Speaking of the formally abstract qualities of Credo, Goedhuis continued:

This aspect of his development is most clearly illustrated by Credo … The piece soars up steeply into two sharp claws. As important here however as the forceful display of this private obsession or the more confident expressionistic quality of the angular forms, is the explicit suggestion of a philosophical statement. Divorced as it is from direct landscape inspiration, this is one of the few works that can be accepted as a truly abstract concept. And it succeeds better than most other pieces precisely because the underlying intensity of feeling has not been so firmly contained by the more literal allusions to antique subject matter or location.
(Goedhuis 1974, p.12.)

Further reading
J.P. Hodin, John Milne: Sculptor, London 1977, reproduced pl.43.
Lynette Fosdyke-Crofts, Reflections of a Sculptor, The Art and Life of John Milne, St Ives 1998, reproduced p.119.
Peter Davies, The Sculpture of John Milne, London 2000, reproduced p.86.

Andrew Wilson
June 2019

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