A key figure of post-war British sculpture, Bernard Meadows came to prominence as part of what is now referred to as the 'Geometry of Fear' generation of sculptors. He exhibited internationally throughout his career and is now represented in the permanent collections of major museums such as the Guggenheim, Hirshhorn and Tate.
Following a very brief and unsuccessful spell as a trainee accountant, Meadows enrolled at the Norwich School of Art aged 19. In his second year it was arranged for three selected students to pay a visit to Henry Moore's Hampstead studio. Moore, so impressed by Meadows, sent him a postcard the following day asking if he may like to assist him for the upcoming Easter holidays. Meadows gladly accepted and, bar the war years, he would remain Moore's assistant until 1948. During the war Meadows volunteered for the Royal Air Force and in 1943 was posted to India, including an extended period on the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Counting surrealism and Picasso amongst his early influences and having learnt both the craft and sensibilities required of a sculptor from Moore, it was Meadows' experience of these islands, and particularly their wildlife, which was to become an important marker in developing his own artistic development. The Cocos have a prevalent community of all manner of crabs which fascinated Meadows; tree crabs, large tank crabs, mosquito crabs, which although must have seemed alien at first became a most familiar feature of day to day life.
Following the end of the war Meadows returned to Britain and although he initially continued to work for Moore, by 1950 he developed his own sculpture. At first these were biomorphic abstractions akin to Moore's work but he quickly moved into new territory with abstracted bird forms and in 1952 his first crab (Black Crab, Tate, London). Like the present cast, these works are at first animal yet remain not entirely removed from the preceding humanoid forms thus allowing an interpretation of representation of the human experience. In 1951 Meadows featured in the Festival of Britain to acclaim but his presence on the international stage was very much cemented by his inclusion in the now fabled exhibition in the British Pavilion at the 1952 Venice Biennale, New Aspects of British Sculpture. This exhibition championed the work of Meadows and seven other young contemporaries (Adams, Armitage, Butler, Chadwick, Clarke, Paolozzi and Turnbull). These artists worked in a more rough and ready aesthetic than the then established mode and shared a common concern borne from memories of war horrors witnessed just years earlier and the fear induced by the developing Cold War. Herbert Read penned the catalogue introduction from which the nomenclature for the group derived:
These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt. Here are images of flight, or ragged claws 'scuttling across the floors of silent seas', of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear.
Belonging to this period is Large 'Jesus' Crab, so called as the first cast was acquired by Jesus College, Cambridge. The piece is believed to be based on the form of the male Fiddler crab; a fast-moving specimen, with a cocoon-like body, raised on angular legs and possessing two eyes on stalks (which Meadows' has moved underneath) and one greatly outsized claw that it raises aloft in a mating display. It perfectly suits Meadow's requirements for his representation of human concern; composed of hardened shell over tender flesh, in a state of both threat and defence.
The present cast remained in Meadows' possession until at least 1965, and latterly entered the collection of Tony Paterson. Paterson was a lawyer and through his friendship with Bryan Robertson, who he met at Toynbee Hall in the 1950s, he became much involved with the contemporary art scene from the 1960s when it is thought that he acquired this sculpture. He provided legal advice to the Air Gallery, Space (an organization to provide studios for young artists), the New Contemporaries and was Honorary Solicitor to the Contempory Art Society. Casts of the half scaled maquette for the present work are in the collection of the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath and the Tate Gallery, London.
British Pavilion, XXXII Beinnale 1964, Venice, unnumbered, (ill.b&w, another cast as Crab, where dated 1952)
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Roger Hilton, Gwyther Irwin, Bernard Meadows, Joe Tilson, 13 May-21 June 1965, unnumbered (this cast, where dated 1952); this exhibition travelled to Zagreb, Modern Gallery, Berlin, Kunstamt Reinickendorf, Museen der Stadt Recklinghausen and Kunstverein Braunschweig (this cast)
John Rothenstein, British Art Since 1900, Phaidon, London, 1962, pl.145 (ill.b&w, another cast, where dated 1952)
Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows, Sculpture and Drawings, Lund Humphries, London, 1995, p.138, cat.no.BM28
The Artist, until 1965
Private Collection, UK
About Bernard Meadows
British, 1915-2005, Norwich, United Kingdom