William Turnbull 1922-2012

Abstract painter in oils and acrylic and sculptor in various media. Born in Dundee, he worked as an illustrator before attending the Slade School from 1946-8. He lived in Paris from 1948 to 1950, meeting Giacometti and Brancusi, and he has travelled extensively since, making his first trip to America in 1957. He held his first solo exhibitions at the Hanover Gallery, showing sculpture in 1950 and painting in 1952. Thereafter he exhibited at London galleries (including the Waddington from 1967), and abroad. His work appeared in the Venice Biennale of 1952 and 1957 and the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh of 1958 and 1961.

William Turnbull began to make ‘Idols’ in the mid-1950s: simplified structures whose totality could be grasped in a glance. Their presence was primal, evoking – though not mimicking – works from other civilisations. At the British Museum, Turnbull had studied Cycladic and African sculpture, as well as utilitarian objects, such as spoons, which possessed symbolic significance. His contribution to the radical exhibition ‘This is Tomorrow’, in 1956, was Sun Gazer, a mysterious ovoid on a pedestal. Turnbull amplified his intention in the catalogue:

Sculpture used to look ‘modern’; now we make objects that might have been dug up at any point in the past forty thousand years. Sculpture = totemic object. It can exist inside or outside architectural space.... read more

William Turnbull Sculpture

Leaf Venus 2

William Turnbull: Leaf Venus 2, 1986