Monday, 23 May 2011

William Mitchell - Architectural Sculptor of the 60s & 70s

This is a selection of work by William Mitchell. On his own website, he describes himself as 'Designer, Sculptor & Artist'. As you'll see, though, much of this is all in the context of / or without architecture.

The first few photos below, are all from his his contribution to the iconic hymn to modernism, the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd (1908–84). The fantastical geometric relief above on the outside front, the main door, as well as several fibreglass reliefs on the inside walls, are all his work. I suppose these are his most seen and most well known work, but this is a tip of a fascinating and prolific concrete iceberg.

I find his work an audacious and heady mix of folk shapes & textures and free-form geometry with a splash of a peculiar kind of retro-futurism. It reminds me of the production design in the original Planet of the Apes film. But it mostly reminds me of the public art that seemed to be ubiquitous in my 70s childhood. My school, village library, village hall, village church (all 60s buildings) all had friezes, wall art or sculptures that was similar.

William Mitchell, explains on his site, that this experimental work was possible thanks to various Government tax incentives to encouraged building groups to establish Research and Development divisions in the 1950s and 60s.

"I was encouraged to produce all manner of strange things to show the potential of various materials - concrete, wood, plastics, bricks, glass, metal and so on. It was an exciting and wonderful time. I believed that the Festival of Britain of 1951 had never received the credit it was due. Today's meagre efforts pale before the outburst of artistic and creative ideas that were to be found at the Festival. I am sure that the Sixties were given a kick-start by the sheer exuberance of it all."

I suspect that much of the work below has been demolished during the last 20 years. It's utopian / socialism / totalitarian vibe being unfashionable for various reasons. Not for me though, I'd love a world in which his, and work like it, was everywhere.

All the photos below are based on those at William Mitchell's Website

Further information

William Mitchell's Website
Manchester Modernist Society

Text © 2011 Gary Andrew Clarke 
Photographs © William Mitchell

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