Teddy Boy and Girl, 1955, 2002 after a 1955 version
Lynn Chadwick RA (1914 - 2003)
RA Collection: Art
On free display in Dame Jillian Sackler Sculpture Gallery
This pair of angular figures features elements of the flamboyant fashions of the ‘teddy boy’ subculture of the 1950s, including drainpipe trousers and pleated coats. Chadwick made the model for the sculpture by welding together an iron skeleton, covering it with a skin of iron filings and plaster and then carving into it. He later cast the figures in bronze.
The title Teddy Boy and Girl references the youth subculture that emerged in Britain in the 1950s after rationing came to an end: the first time teenagers had their own identity. Their style drew on a combination of Edwardian and American Rock & Roll influences. In the two figures of Teddy Boy and Girl Chadwick represents their typical dress with drainpipe trousers and pleated coats. Michael Bird has argued that this was “probably the first sculptural celebration of contemporary youth culture” (Bird 2014, p.12). As the Teddy Boys were perceived to be violent, Bird argues that in choosing the title, Chadwick was being provocative: “Teddy Boys, who with their girls could be found loitering, with actual or imagined intent, on the provincial streets of Stroud and Gloucester as in London or Brighton, brought out the bourgeoisie-baiter in Chadwick. He selected his title to this end” (Bird 2014, p.78).
Chadwick represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1956 as the only sculptor alongside five painters. Teddy Boy and Girl was probably made with the exhibition in mind (Bird 2014, p.77). Bird writes that the Committee asked Chadwick to change the title as it may not be understood by the international audience, although “’Teddy’ Boy and Girl” is listed in the 1956 catalogue. His work was so well received at the Biennale that Chadwick won the International Sculpture Prize, which had previously been won by older sculptors who already had established international reputations. The prize cemented Chadwick's international reputation as it had done for Henry Moore before him.
Teddy Boy and Girl was originally made in 1955 in the technique Chadwick developed by welding an iron armature before putting on a 'stolit' skin (a mixture of iron filings and plaster), which he would build up and carve either dry or wet. As the iron skeleton remained evident, Chadwick described them as “like crabs”: “they've got their bones on the outside” (Kingdon, 2003, p.6). When the original sculpture came back on the market at Sothebys in 2001, it had begun to rust so the artist bought it back and had it cast into an edition of nine.
Chadwick is often grouped with Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage RA, Reg Butler, Geoffrey Clarke RA, Eduardo Paolozzi RA, William Turnbull and Bernard Meadows as the ‘Geometry of Fear’ sculptors. The phrase was coined by Herbert Read in the catalogue essay when the group first exhibited together at the British Pavilion in the Venice Biennale in 1952. The aesthetic was marked by spiky, welded forms as seen in Teddy Boy and Girl. Read argued that the group shared collective guilt from WWII and they were subsequently marked by a sense of post-war trauma. Chadwick’s works were in fact more light-hearted than this allows, which was acknowledged by Herbert Read in the 1952 essay when he wrote “Chadwick has more playfulness than the others, and is ingenious in his invention of interweaving form, toys, armed however, with vicious teeth and claws” (Read, 1952). Later, Read appeared to retract the phrase: “I have called it metaphysical fear; it would still be more exact to call it unconscious fear, but then ‘fear’ is no longer an appropriate word” (Read 1962, p.99). Bielecka tells of Chadwick himself complaining about the phrase being repeated without looking at the work itself (Bielecka 2012).
Herbert Read, ‘New Aspects of British Sculpture’ in Exhibition of works by Sutherland, Wadsworth, Adams, Armitage, Butler, Chadwick, Clarke, Meadows, Moore, Paolozzi, Turnbull, London: British Council, 1952.
Rungwe Kingdon, Coming from the Dark: Lynn Chadwick, Stroud: Gallery Pangolin, 2003.
Polly Bielecka, Exorcising the Fear, London: Pangolin London, 2012.
Michael Bird, Lynn Chadwick, Farnham: Lund Humpries, 2014.
1900 mm x 700 mm x 580 mm, Weight: 168.7 kg
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