William Turnbull: Centenary Retrospective

William Turnbull

Offer Waterman and the Estate of William Turnbull announce a major retrospective exhibition at No.9 Cork Street in London from 29 June to 20 July 2022, to celebrate the centenary of the artist’s birth.

William Turnbull (1922-2012) was one of Britain’s most important post-war Modernists. Described by Nicholas Serota when Director of the Tate as ‘an exceptional artist, unusually gifted both as a painter and a sculptor’, he explored the changing contemporary world and its ancient past, actively engaging with the shifting concerns of British, European and American artists.

Offer Waterman has exclusively represented the artist’s Estate since 2015 and this is the most comprehensive exhibition of Turnbull’s work since a major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1973. Staged across six rooms and two floors of the Frieze space at No.9 Cork Street, the exhibition brings together more than 60 paintings and sculptures from every period of the artist’s career as well as a small number of works on paper from the late 1940s. The majority of the works come directly from the estate, complemented by major loans from private collections to ensure a comprehensive presentation of the artist’s inventive brilliance and mastery of different mediums.

This retrospective begins in 1949, a year after Turnbull left London and the Slade to relocate to the more artistically experimental and exciting environment of Paris, where he made contact with some of the giants of modernism, including Brancusi and Giacometti. At this time Turnbull was ‘fascinated with things moving and touching and perceptually convinced of energy as creation’. Initially he created kinetic sculptures, before producing static works that suggested the potential for movement, with the assertion that ‘ultimate movement is ultimate rest’. Three sculptures, Forms on a Base, Maquette for Large Sculpture and Torque Upwards, all dating from 1949, epitomise this notion, their spindly forms rising in different directions from rectangular bases. The plaster versions of these bronzes were exhibited at the Hanover Gallery, London in 1960, and the original presentation of the plasters, on sculpture stands, has been recreated at No.9 Cork Street.

In the next room, Turnbull’s archetypal ‘totem’ sculptures stand alongside abstract ‘river’ paintings’ such as 24-1963, which were inspired by the artist seeing aerial views of the jungle when a pilot in the First World War. Combining bronze and various woods and stones, the stacked sculptures exhibit wonderful contrasting colours and surface textures. Some of these works, such as Agamemnon, 1962, Oedipus 3, 1962 and Janus 1, 1959, bear mythological titles that imbue them with ancient associations. A group of Turnbull’s monumental, vibrant colour-field paintings will be showcased alongside a number of his large, raw and sprayed colour steel sculptures. These potent and experimental works, a marked departure for the artist, were in part informed by a trip to New York in 1957 during which Turnbull met Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko.

The exhibition introduces some of the most important themes of Turnbull’s career: the horse, the female figure and the human head. Five of the artist’s radically different approaches to the horse as subject are presented together dating from 1946 right through to 2000 and ranging from the textured, angular planes of Turnbull’s upright, monolithic Pegasus, 1954, to the pared back linear form of Horse 3, 2000. Another room is dedicated solely to Turnbull’s various early interpretations of the human head motif, including a series of seven masks that the artist made in 1953, which in his own words ‘attempt to fix that which is most continuously fleeting and mobile – the expression on a face’. Designed to be mounted on the wall, these masks demonstrate the introduction of figuration into Turnbull’s work. The head also appears in numerous paintings from the 1950s, three examples of which are on show, including a large 60-inch-high canvas entitled Calligraphic Head, composed of expressive and gestural mark making and paint splatters. Referring to such works, Turnbull commented that he had not wanted ‘to transpose the head from three dimensional reality to a flat surface – but to imagine what a head would be if flflat (squeezed between two pieces of glass like a micro-slide) and made of paint marks’.

The exhibition also unites seven standing female figures from the 1950s and the 1980s. While earlier sculptures such as War Goddess, 1956, are blocky, abstracted and geometric in appearance, later works such as Paddle Venus 2, 1986, have simple silhouettes, a thin profile and a clear front and back aspect. Seeing these works side by side, one notices unique decorative surface elements of each bronze, such as puncture holes and fine incised lines, but also the close attention the artist gave to the patination of his individual casts.

Lead image courtesy of Offer Waterman


Duration 29 June 2022 - 20 July 2022
Times Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm
Cost Free
Venue No 9 Cork Street
Address 9 Cork Street, London, W1S 3LL
Contact / / www.frieze.com/article/gallery-line-announced-no9-cork-street


, ,