Geoffrey Clarke (1924–2014) came to prominence in Britain in the early 1950s, and rapidly rose to become one of the brightest stars of the new sculptural movement ‘The Geometry of Fear’. This pivotal moment would go on to define British sculpture in the 20th century, and Clarke was very much at the epicentre.
As early as his diploma year, Geoffrey Clarke was chosen to represent The Royal College of Arts at the 1951 Festival of Britain, with his sculpture titled Icarus in iron and glass for the Transport Pavilion.
His fame was cemented in 1952 when he was selected by the Arts Council for the inclusion in the landmark exhibition of British Sculpture at the Venice Biennale, alongside Henry Moore, Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull. It was at this exhibition that the movement ‘Geometry of Fear’ was born, and named by the great critic Herbert Read.
In 1952, Clarke held his first solo show at Gimpel Fils gallery (who also represented Chadwick and Adams at the time), and of equal importance was commissioned to make a major welded iron sculpture for the Time Life Building in London, designed by Hugh Casson. Other artists who were commissioned for the project include Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Maurice Lambert. Originally made for the foyer, Clarke’s piece can now be viewed in the ground floor Reception Area.
The following year in 1953, aged only 23, Clarke worked on one of the most important new buildings of the modern era in Britain – the Coventry Cathedral designed by Basil Spence. Clarke was part of a team commissioned to create the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows which can be seen today on the high altar. This commission represented perhaps the ultimate moment of Clarke’s entire career.
During his early career, especially at the RCA, Geoffrey Clarke was known for experimenting with iron, wire and plaster works. A major development by the ‘Geometry of Fear’ group was this specific interest in new materials – often building up an initial skeleton, that they constructed and then built on. This method perhaps fits in with a post-war optimism to try new approaches and develop a more meaningful sculptural language. Clarke branched out even further, working in multiple media such as stained glass and printmaking, as well as sculpture.
Geoffrey Clarke’s works are held in multiple public collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Victoria & Albert Museum and Tate Gallery in London. He was part of the important survey British Sculpture in the 20th Century held at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1981. Clarke was elected a Royal Academician in 1970.