Gordon House: Gallery One, Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden

2 November 2022 - 27 March 2023
 

Gordon House was born on the 22nd of June 1932 in Pontardawe, South Wales. Early exposure to art on trips to the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery as a young boy inspired House towards creative endeavours and at the age of fourteen he was awarded a grant to enter art school which he readily accepted.

 

During the early fifties, after finishing art school, House began work as assistant to the ecclesiastical sculptor Theodore Kern. He also spent time at an advertising studio where he honed his burgeoning skills in typography and graphic design. In 1952 House was offered the position of designer for Imperial Chemical Industries Plastics Division where he stayed until 1959. This was followed by two years spent as graphic designer for the Kynoch Press in London. In 1961 House set out on his own as a self-employed designer and typographer. In the late fifties, informed by the new art emerging in America and that of his contemporaries in England, House began to create large-scale abstract works which he was invited to show in 1959 at Dennis Bowen's legendary New Vision Centre in Marble Arch.

 

He was an active participant in the vibrant London art scene of the sixties, regularly attending lectures, exhibitions and discussions. In 1960 he exhibited in 'Situation' the key abstract exhibition of the decade held at the RBA Galleries. Other participating artists included Robyn Denny, Bernard and Harold Cohen, Gillian Ayres, John Hoyland, Richard Smith and William Turnbull among others.

 

In 1961 House began producing his first prints at the Kelpra Studio, run by Chris and Rose Prater, where he made the earliest fine art screenprint ever to be produced in Britain. Artists such as Paolozzi and Hamilton followed in his footsteps and together they started a printmaking revolution in Britain. Later, together with Cliff White, House set up the White Ink print studio in London, where he produced etchings and wood engravings on a series of magnificent antique printing presses he had collected. White Ink soon gained a reputation for innovative and high quality printmaking, attracting artists such as R. B. Kitaj, Richard Smith, Joe Tilson, Sidney Nolan, Victor Pasmore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bernard Cohen and Elizabeth Frink.

 

Printmaking was to remain a key part of House's oeuvre throughout the rest of his career, whether in the medium of screenprint, etching, woodcut, linocut or lithograph. In 1981 a retrospective exhibition of his graphic works opened at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, and in 1982 this travelled to the Brooklyn Museum, New York. These shows were instrumental in bringing House's prints to the attention of a wider American audience.

Gordon House was involved in the creation of some of the most iconic musical imagery of the twentieth century. This was a period when the art and music scenes were closely connected - the gallery of Robert Fraser or 'Groovy Bob' as he was known became a fertile meeting point for the movers and shakers in both spheres. Having designed all the stationary, cards and catalogues for the opening of Fraser's gallery on Duke Street House was very much a part of this exciting new scene. In the late sixties he was regularly employed in his capacity as designer by Apple Records at their premises on Savile Row and also did work at the Rolling Stones' offices nearby.

 

House collaborated with Peter Blake on the 1967 Beatles LP 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' for which he did the typography on the back cover. The pair joined forces again in the eighties on the poster designs for Live Aid. In 1968 House worked on a second Beatles release 'The White Album' for which he was responsible for the production and typography. After the Beatles' break-up design commissions continued for McCartney on both his solo albums and those of 'The Wings'. Another artist whom House was heavily involved with was Ian Dury of 'Kilburn & the Highroads' and 'The Blockheads' fame. Having designed typography for his various musical projects, in 1995 House produced the 'What a Waste' portfolio of screenprints in hommage to Ian.

 

Gordon House designed catalogues and publicity for many of the major London galleries of the day, from museums such as the Tate to commercial galleries such as Robert Fraser, in particular he was known for his fine collaborations with Eskenazi. Artist Bernard Cohen wrote: 'At the start of the 1960s, galleries and museums lacked any kind of coherant approach to matters of communication and presentation. They were without house styles, and seemed to change with every exhibition…A new generation of dealers quickly recognised the freshness of his (House's) designing. A simple, modular graphic layout and house style turned every gallery into an identifiable entity'. House revolutionised the appearance of gallery graphics of the twentieth century and set the benchmark for design now taken for granted as standard in the art world.

 

House continued to make paintings and prints into his sixties and seventies, exhibiting in shows in the UK and further afield. House died of a brain tumour in 2004. A memorial exhibition was held at The Millinery Works, London. His Memoir 'Tin Pan Valley' was published that same year by Archive Press, London.