John Milne

Les Baux


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Not on display

John Milne 1931–1978
Bronze and wire
Object: 560 × 460 × 40 mm
Bequeathed by Andrew Burt 2019


Les Baux 1959 is an irregular off-square bronze relief that describes an architectonic spatial recession leading to two openings – one square at lower centre of the relief and above it an upside down ‘L’ shape, occupying the upper centre and top left corner of the relief. These openings are framed to their left and bottom by a recessive stepping out and a bar cast into the relief, while to their right a number of wires run vertically. The surface of the relief is roughly textured apart from the openings and their framing at left, areas that are left smooth. The patination of the work and its relief form suggest an affinity with the broad range of abstract painting then being followed in London and in St Ives, Cornwall where Milne lived from 1952 – painting that embraced ‘matière’ both in terms of the application of paint (typified by the use of the French term tachisme – or mark-making) and also through intuitive gesture, recognised in action painting or abstract expressionism. Milne’s relief also provides evidence of a reliance on formal composition, and as such it complements the paintings of artists he knew in St Ives, such as Patrick Heron (1920–1999) or Roger Hilton (1911–1975). Despite this, the initial source for the relief is indicated by its title. In 1957 Milne had visited Les Baux in the South of France and was especially affected by the volcanic forms of the Val D’Enfer (Hell’s Valley). The visit led at first to a large number of drawings distilled from the landscape that he had been confronted by there, as well as from its architecture, and then ultimately to this, his first bronze relief. The relief form was one that he returned to later in the late 1960s, explicitly because of the way it can join a graphic idea of flatness with the tangible expansion of forms and space. Les Baux was made in an edition of six, of which Tate’s is the second.

Undoubtedly the most significant influence on Milne was that provided by the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) and the example of 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.

For the critic Michael Goedhuis, reviewing Milne’s last solo exhibition in 1974, at the Marjorie Parr Gallery, London, ‘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.) Although Goedhuis was writing about later works, such as Credo 1974 (Tate T15361), which was the centrepiece of this exhibition, this interest in openings and enclosure is prefigured in earlier works such as Les Baux.

Further reading
J.P. Hodin, John Milne: Sculptor, London 1977, reproduced pl.8.
Lynette Fosdyke-Crofts, Reflections of a Sculptor, The Art and Life of John Milne, St Ives 1998, reproduced p.47.
Peter Davies, The Sculpture of John Milne, London 2000, reproduced pp.16 and 71.

Andrew Wilson
June 2019

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