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

Past, Present, Future (2010)
Geoffrey Clarke RA (1924–2014)

Past, Present, Future (2010) is based on a maquette produced for a public sculpture at Jersey Airport which Geoffrey Clarke made in 1996. The title of the work seems particularly appropriate for a college which includes two of the artists earlier works; College Gate (1961) and Archives Centre Doors (1961), both of which were created specifically for Churchill College.

Geoffrey Clarke was a pioneer in a golden age of British sculpture, his innovative approach to new materials and processes saw him produce works that epitomise the vibrancy of the post-war British art scene.

He first came to prominence whilst studying stained glass at the Royal College of Art, London which led Clarke to be selected to work on one of the Britain’s most important public commissions of the era, the windows of Coventry Cathedral. However, it was his tireless development of casting in aluminium that made his name. Experimenting with polystyrene, a relatively new material in the 1950s, the sculptor discovered that he could make his models in polystyrene and use them for direct casting. His discovery coincided with a superabundance of public commissions throughout the country and due to the comparable inexpensiveness of aluminium to bronze, its lighter weight and his ability to cast it himself, Clarke was able to take full advantage to become one of the most commissioned British sculptors of the twentieth century. So busy was the sculptor that, by his late 30s, he was flying between projects by helicopter.

Clarke’s first solo show was held at Gimpel Fils Gallery, London, in 1952, the same year in which his work was included in the Venice Biennale. The latter exhibition launched the sculptor onto the international stage; his spiky, angular abstract forms captured the mood of the post-war angst, leading him and his fellow sculptors exhibiting to be labelled the “Geometry of Fear” group by the art critic Herbert Read. In 1965, he had a major retrospective at the Redfern Gallery, London and his work was included in British Sculpture in the 1960s exhibition at the Tate Gallery. He was selected for British Sculptors ‘72 curated by Bryan Kneale at the Royal Academy of Arts and for British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1981. In his later career, much of Clarke’s work was commission-based, cast in a foundry in a barn at his home, Stowe Hill, that he and his future wife, Ethelwynne Tyrer, had chanced on while driving through Suffolk.

His work is held in many prestigious public and private collections around the world. Pangolin London represents the artists’ estate.

— Barry Phipps, 2016

Past, Present, Future (2010) can be seen in front of the Study Centre at the Møller Institute

Find out more about the College art collection

Churchill College Sculpture Trail