Barry Phipps, Curator of Works of Art at Churchill College explores artists and artworks from the College’s collection.

The beauty of the imperfect circle. 

Two Circular Forms No. 1 Opus 48 (1961) by the British sculptor Robert Adams, currently on the Fellows’ lawn, is a work that was conceived through a life-long fascination with geometric composition, simplicity and the diminution of decoration in art.

Adams (1917–1984) was an artist of intense vision and creativity. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, in both 1952 and 1962. However, for much of his career his work was overshadowed by his more prominent contemporaries, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke and Bernard Meadows (whose works are also in the College’s collection). Yet, his legacy as one of the foremost post-war New Generation sculptors is undeniable. He studied at Northampton School of Art, before being employed as an engineer during the War. Thereafter, Adams spent two years teaching himself to sculpt, predominantly in wood. These early works comprised forms abstracted from natural objects. Later, he came into contact with Victor Pasmore and with the group of artists around him, which included Adrian Heath, Anthony Hill, Kenneth Martin and Mary Martin. The group acted as a forum for so-called ‘Constructivist’ ideas in Britain, and Adams exhibited with them from 1951 to 1956.

Many common concerns of the Constructivist group of artists included; geometrical abstraction, the connection between art and architecture and a common interest in the processes and materials of construction. Adams was sympathetic to the group’s aim of forging a link between art and architecture, which was reflected in the inclusion of his architectural reliefs in the seminal exhibition This is Tomorrow at the ICA, London, in 1956. The following year, along with Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely, Adams successfully won a commission to provide artworks for the Gelsenkirchen Theatre complex in Germany, constructed in 1959 from reinforced concrete.

Two Circular Forms No. 1 Opus 48 was made during the time when Adams was with the Constructivists. In many ways it has a period look, with the rigid grid-framework offset by hand drawn shapes so beloved by artists of the late fifties and early sixties. The elongated black-painted tubular framework is juxtaposed by freely-cut curves of the red painted steel circles. It is an exercise in materiality, form and construction, and exemplifies his dedication to the beauty of simplicity, scale and structure, which can be traced throughout the sculptor’s career.

Adams work can be found in numerous international public collections including, the Arts Council Collection, The Tate Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Smithsonian Institute, Washington. His sculptures can be seen at Customs House, Heathrow Airport, and BP House, London.

— Barry Phipps, 2015

Two Circular Forms No. 1 Opus 48 can be seen in the Fellows’ Garden at Churchill College.

Find out more about the College art collection

Churchill College Sculpture Trail