Eric Gill is one of the twentieth century's most controversial artists. While his scandalous personal life has coloured his reputation, the range of his work has broadened Gill s appeal, as well as making him hard to categorize.
This illustrated introduction focuses on the clarity of Gills drawn and cut line. It explores his genius as a letter cutter, wood engraver, sculptor and typographer in the light of his refined finished drawings and preparatory sketches and shows connections across the different media he used. Like all modernists of the early twentieth century, he used stylized form, explicit sexuality and the influence of other cultures to position himself at the forefront of the avant garde.
An outsider and a radical, Gill nevertheless became one of the establishments favourite artists. His patrons included the British Government, the Roman Catholic Church, the British Museum, the
Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Mint, the Post Office, London Underground and the BBC. He often used his irreverent humour to subtly criticize the very establishment he worked for. The authors,
Ruth Cribb and Joe Cribb, illuminate the quality, complexities and contradictions of Gills life and art.
Some initial paragraphs from the introduction to the book:
Eric Gill (1882-1940) was “one of the most remarkable personalities of his time, able to express what was in him as a carver, engraver, typographer and writer, and above all, perhaps, as a courageous, clear-sighted and particularly lovable human being,” said Sir John Rothenstein, Director of the Tate, in 1958.
Gill was invariably shown in photographs with a pencil, chisel or graver in hand. He had a passion for the lines created with these tools, and all his artwork started with a drawing on paper. A prominent British avant-garde artist, Gill participated in the development of new forms of sculpture, engraving, letter cutting and typography in the early twentieth century. Above all Gill was an artist who worked
to bring to his varied media the overarching importance of 'good drawing', by which he meant good lines ... clean lines, clear lines, firm lines, lines you intend' (from his book 25 Nudes, 1938). His insistence on the religious dimension of art makes his contribution a unique one. For Gill ‘good' had an added meaning: 'Drawing is worth doing for its own sake; it is subordinate to no other end than the general end of life itself – mans final beatitude' (25 Nudes). These remarks preface nude engravings of his mistresses, but Gill, son of a clergyman and member of the Dominican Order, saw no conflict between his religious views and his remarkable and now infamous sex life.
Gill's 'good lines' in both image and letter are illustrated here largely by works from the British Museum, supported by examples from the libraries of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and the University of California, Los Angeles, from Ditchling Museum, Sussex, and the Royal Mint Museum,
Llantrisant. Further pieces come from a private collection.
Eric Gill in Sussex and London
Growing up in Brighton and Chichester, Gill had a childhood engagement with drawing, which led him to study technical drawing at college. In 1900 he became an apprentice draughtsman with an architect in London, where he enrolled in evening classes in stonemasonry at Westminster
Technical College and calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. In 1903, guided by his calligraphy teacher Edward Johnston (1872-1944), the founding father of modern
calligraphy, Gill abandoned his apprenticeship to set up business as a decorative and inscriptional letterer, with commissions to cut memorial inscriptions in stone and to design title pages for books.
Gill admired Johnston and they became close friends. So much so that when Johnston moved to live in the Arts and Crafts community in Hammersmith in 1905, Gill followed.
About the Authors:
Ruth Cribb is writing her PhD thesis on Eric Gill’s working practices at the University of Brighton and is an exhibition coordinator at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Joe Cribb retired as Keeper of Coins and Medals at the British Museum in 2010, and has written many publications on Asian coins and monetary history. Ruth Cribb and Joe Cribb co-authored "Eric Gill and Ditchling: the Workshop Tradition", also available from www.calligraphity.com.
1st edition, 2011, paperback, 112pp, fully illustrated throughout, 17.2 x 19 cm