Thursday, 3 June 2010

Influences: Eric Gill

Self Portrait (Final State). 1927. Wood engraving

I've decided to add a bit more variety to the content here on my blog. As part of this, I'm going to occasionally post about artists, illustrators and designers who have significantly influenced my work. Initially, I had intended to put together a list of five or so key figures, but when I started thinking about it I realised that the idea would be better covered by an ongoing series of posts. Firstly, because that will give me the chance to cover each of the artists in a bit more depth, and secondly because there are just so many artists and designers that I admire that it seems a shame to limit the list to such a narrow selection.

My first choice is an undeniably controversial figure: the sculptor, designer and all-round paraphiliac Eric Gill. Known as much for his bizarre and unsettling personal habits as his artwork, he's nonetheless a designer and artist of immense achievement whose work is as ubiquitous as it is under-appreciated. While most design students will recognise him for his achievements as a type designer, I've always been more interested in his drawings and etchings. Running through all his work is an uncompromising surety of line, along with a commitment to simplicity of gesture. For me, the strength of his drawings are in their pared down confidence - some describe them as being self-consciously naive, but I don't see it that way; while his work may be simple in appearance, its wide-eyed style is sophisticated in the extreme. I think the thing that inspires me about his work is the confidence of his lines - everything else follows from that. They have a craftsmanlike rigour that is unshakable, and give the compositions a boldness that is reassuring and agreeably at odds with the sometimes childlike rendering.

I'm not particularly interested in the personal habits of Gill - his shortcomings are well known and would surely have him in jail if he were alive today - and instead I prefer to focus on the inspirational quality of the work he left behind. Caught between spiritual devotion and secular indulgence, Gill's legacy is a body of work that's as captivating as the man himself was unsettling.

Eve. 1926. Wood engraving

Portrait of: Thomas Esmond Lowinsky, Esq. 1924. Wood engraving.

Stay Me with Apples 1925

Portrait of: Eliz. Gill. 1924. Engraving on zinc

On my Bed by Night. 1925. Wood engraving

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