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Geometry of

Fear Paul James Cunnin gh a m


End Sheet Match Back End Sheet


Geometry of

Fear Paul James Cunningham text by

R ob e r t A .B . S a wye r


Geometry of Fear Paul James Cunningham Copyright © 2018 Untitled 2.0 & Paul James Cunningham All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission of the artist or gallery. All works completed in 2017 by Paul James Cunningham for the exhibition Geometry of Fear {Untitled 2.0, December 1, 2017 – January 28, 2018} Technical assistance provided by Thomas Glassman Special thanks to Robert A.B. Sawyer for text: Robert A.B. Sawyer was born in Brooklyn, NY, brought up in Los Angeles, came of age in Santa Cruz and entered the real world in New York City. There he spent 30 years creating advertising for some of the world’s largest brands, as well as some you’d need a séance to find. Sawyer was invited to read in the 2017 Festival Internacional de Poesía en el Caribe, PoeMaRío, in Barranquilla, Colombia. He was a winner of the 2003 Discovery / The Nation Poetry Competition and has had poems published in The Nation, Margie: The Journal of American Poetry and New Millennium Writings. His poem, “How I know She’s Coming Home,” was selected by Natasha Trethewey for Meridian Best New Poets of 2007. He has also published work in Adbusters, Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, and The New York Times. Design & Photography by Duane Megyesi Untitled 2.0 A Gallery on the Corner of 6th & G Street 119 SE 6th Street, Grants Pass, OR 97526 DeWayne Thomas Lumpkin untitled2gallery.com


These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt. Here are images of flight, or ragged claws ‘scuttling across the floors of silent seas’, of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear. - Herbert Read


The Surfaces Cunningham’s oils are rich and thick and painterly. In his drawings, the charcoal, pastels, and ink are applied with an almost architectural discipline, with an eye for verisimilitude. These are not sketches or studies, but fully realized works.

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Cunningham wants to open eyes and minds. He uses his work to tell larger truths, and the work in this show is not his final word on the particulars on display. His work is a conjuring. The whole of a work exceeds the sum of discipline and craftsmanship necessary to make it. There is magic at work, stronger than the most controlled frame or deliberate brush strokes.

Distance is a strategy that introduces organizing principles. But talk of strategies and organized principles should not suggest that Cunningham’s work is cerebral. He will, in fact, argue that cerebral is not an argument. What passes for discussion is merely paint and brush at work. Cunningham considers the work devotional. It acknowledges a universe that is not random, which suggests an organizing intelligence.

The place of the artist, the posture and positioning, always brings to mind the Natura Naturata vs. Natura Naturnans binary. Can one or, rather, how does an artist assert mastery over nature? The work makes clear that Cunningham looks from both above and a distance, and then determines the hierarchic priorities of what he surveys.

The notion of devotion is not disingenuous. The detail, care, and realism evident in Cunningham’s work suggest a strong desire to both document London at that time as well as honor the “Geometry of Fear” group.

Which is why a landscape, even one violated in the most horrific way, may be, from this distance, so quiet as to suggest a pastorale. Or a festival may assume the aspect of a ruin.

Historicity is always a puzzle, as is any insistence on universality. Which is why the viewer requires no particular knowledge of Cunningham’s subject to appreciate its legitimacy or veracity.

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I

It is not surprising then that this work was repudiated by the bullish expectations and good taste of the British Establishment. Nor should it surprise anyone that the art of Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwich, and their peers was largely ignored in their own country. The work—hard, twisted, and spiked with jagged edges—repudiated British utopian ideals set against glorious oaks and eternal steeples. Instead, they told the truth.

Geometry of Fear Paul James Cunningham’s paintings and drawings that make up “Geometry of Fear” were inspired by art that triggered such thoughts half a century ago. His work testifies that the same horrors, which were effectively put out of sight and out of mind, continue to haunt our sleep.

The truth and those who tell it were then, as now, more than a little inconvenient to the Establishment. While local opposition remained local, members of the “Geometry of Fear” group were celebrated, individually and collectively, at the 1952 Venice Biennale, where they were introduced with the most anodyne language, “New Aspects of British Culture.” Nevertheless, their work resonated far beyond the British Pavilion, where it was described as “the most vital, the most brilliant, and most promising in the whole Biennale.”

The term “Geometry of Fear” was coined in 1952 by the English critic Sir Herbert Read to describe a group of young artists, whose work was haunted by a specter that rose out of the fires that continued to smolder at the end of the Second World War. It was work fed in equal parts by dread and optimism.

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Cunningham’s work offers us a way in. More than 50 years after the “Geometry of Fear” group confronted a manufactured post-war return to normalcy, Cunningham has adopted the term to offer us, he says, “a more honest remembering of the past.” He also offers a way of looking backward that, in turn, “will lead to a more honest appraisal and, so, experience of the present day.” Cunningham is not retelling old stories. He has not hung a revisionist history. His work does not harken back to those artists at that time. He is saying that the truth told by the “Geometry of Fear” group is as relevant today as it was then.

Our behavior makes perfect sense in light of the innumerable threats to our collective sense of well-being. Just as it was in 1952, the possibility of nuclear war is again in the headlines. Just as it was then, the prospect of perpetual war is accepted as part of the natural order of things.

Cunningham believes that we are again staring into the abyss. The arcade of digital distractions fools no one. People feel anxious. Neither pronouncements from the left or the right or the center calm anyone’s fears. An obscene percentage of Americans, from children to the elderly, are on some kind of medication. An equal number mix their own cocktails.

Other monsters—global climate change, political extremism, terrorism, and the frequencies of “genocides”—contribute to a new politics of fear, a state of mind that leaves us unsettled at best, nihilistic at worst. Armageddon is no longer a word employed only by evangelicals.

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Cunningham reminds us that a purpose of art, its eternal obligation, to paraphrase Rousseau, is to make one both weak enough to fall into the abyss, and strong enough to climb out of it.

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The original work that inspired Read’s epithet was not pretty. It was visceral, angry, and fierce. For these reasons it would fall out of favor once the post-war economic miracles built new cities over the mountains of rubble, waste, and bone. The rapid ascent and acceptance of abstract expressionism suggested that angst was now an individual affair, one perhaps best addressed with psychoanalysis. In almost no time at all the ideas informing that group’s work were dismissed as “atomic anxiety.”

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If Cunningham’s work does not refer directly to the sculptors and painters of the “Geometry of Fear” or the few English artists, such as Francis Bacon, who followed them, he does want us to remember what anxieties informed their work. What’s more, he wants us to feel these anxieties ourselves.


He is an advocate of calling a f ig a f ig. Consequently, Cunningham’s drawings and paintings are unlike much contemporary art, which is either long on commentary, or f inds its villain in the global obsession with acquisition and display. Cunningham has another reason for not making pretty works. He does not intend for you to reside in them.

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Inspired by those artists, I am offering a more honest imagining of the future. “Geometry of Fear� emerged not only from a world broken by the Second World War but by the ideologies that made that and subsequent wars inevitable.

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There was something else, something perhaps even more terrible that upset these young artists and the critics who read them correctly. When the shells and rockets stopped falling, and when these artists lifted their heads, they did not see a rainbow arch over London. Instead they intuited a cloud darker than any that followed German bombing.

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In spite of this, or because of it, they made art. It was reflexive. They were optimists; they had no choice but to believe in a future. Art cannot help but be optimistic.

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The Drawings A masterfully rendered drawing is a beautiful object. That is often more than enough. But Cunningham is concerned with more than making beautiful objects.

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His work transcends the illustrative, brings more intensity as he reestablishes the line. His hand pushes for more than a photographic clarity. In a sense, he is scraping at the surface of his work to discover for himself what lies underneath it.

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The drawings are didactic. The lesson is deeper than the funeral tones and the muddiness on the surface. Each of these drawings is concerned with the afterlife. Not an afterlife but an eternal cortège of afterlives. Once these places were populated, it is clear they are no longer inhabited. They will be populated again and, again, emptied.

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The idea Cunningham continues to return to is that we move from death back to life, which means we’re continually pushing back death.

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II

If people were more optimistic, beneath the “sanctioned optimism” was a pervasive sense of dread. This dread would within a few years inform Read’s “Geometry of Fear.” Already, good reason to fear was being advertised in the branding of the Iron Curtain in 1946 and, a year later, in the inauguration of the Cold War.

Regarding geometry and fear.

In light of these pronouncements, so soon after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, young artists observed that the threat of “atomic” annihilation was not a passing cloud but a shroud that had wrapped itself around the whole of humanity. They could ask, without irony, did they have a future?

Fear: VE Day followed months later by VJ Day. A new day. Sadly, no. Victory would be postponed, and those who survived were expected to accommodate new realities. Overnight, or so it seemed, people awakened to a new war. A more insidious war. The Cold War.

Work inspired by urgency and optimism.

The last fires were dying out. Unexploded ordinances carefully removed. The weakened edifices knocked down. Rebuilding had begun in ravaged London. Soon after the defeat of the Nazis, in a great, if largely symbolic, act, the English people replaced the Olympian Churchill and his Tory pantheon with the Labor party. While not an actual revolution, the election of Labor, led by Clement Attlee, expressed the desire of those who survived the war for a more equitable society—if not a worker’s paradise then at the least full employment and an enlarged system of social services.

After the “Geometry of Fear,” there was no going back. The group pushed forward its radical ideas, even pushing aside the highly regarded abstract modernist work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. Modernism in all its permutations took hold in Europe early in the 20th century, but it took another half a century for successful English artists to reject nice paintings and a nativist mannerism that looked backward.

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Geometry: Geometry is science, and science had at last replaced nature. Man had the upper hand and he intended to use it. It was an old enlightenment dream fulfilled—the death of superstition and the end to sentimentality. The old art glorified the god of Nature. The new art glorified the god of Science. Modern artists aimed for a different perfection— things that could be measured and counted.

How does Science deal with Fear? It doesn’t, it destroys it. The new threat was the ultimate threat. Everything, everyone, could be destroyed. 37


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The Festival was a way out. Out of gloom, despair, and fear. Its design and plan was itself another promise: It offered a view of the kind of urban planning that would replace bombed, broken and brown England. It was contemporary. The time for sacrifice and heroism had passed. It was time for fun. The future was going to be fun. Alas, as someone once noted: It was fun while it lasted, but had it lasted it would not have been fun.

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The Triangles The beauty of this shape is how within the form the picture collapses but the beauty remains. At its most basic, the triangle is a geometrical tool we use to order space. Its use as a frame for art goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks. In many of their most important structures, the interior of the pediment, the tympanum, is decorated with sculptural reliefs illustrating scenes from Greek mythology.

These shapes offer artists a diamondlike contraction of space within which to work. In Cunningham’s pieces, the paint is heavy, dense. It is more physical then visual; it offers a more intense experience of paint. There’s color, too, but one must work to see it. When you begin to see the colors, you also feel its actual, tactile presence. Triangles provide a highly defined window into space. In this sense, triangles are not irregular—they are an agreed upon device, which is to say, an accepted shape. They are not contrived, not used to play tricks on the eye.

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Violent death creates a haunting. There are ghosts, and ghosts inhabit these works.

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Out of this gloom, these shards, and jagged edges, the new Labor government conceived The Festival of Britain. It was as a promise to the nation. It was intended as the public’s first taste of the inevitable socialist utopia.

III e Festival of Britain

The Festival of Britain held events in Northern Ireland and Scotland and throughout the land, but its heart was in London. It was situated on the south bank of the Thames, in an ignored yet highly visible part of London. The south bank had been an eyesore for 100 years. Heavily bombed during the war, it was the perfect place for Labor to showcase its national ambitions.

1951. A time when one commentator compared Britain’s state of mind to thick brown gravy. Post War was a collective sigh. Few were happy with the state of affairs, and fewer could imagine a brighter future. Now that Churchill and his Tories were out, Labor could roll up its sleeves and go to work. The people of London in particular, but the nation in general, were pushing out of the “hard, twisted, and spiked with jagged edges” ruins and humiliations of a war that its people didn’t so much win, as survive. The everyday business of everyday life was the order of the day. People dusted themselves off. Millions of men dressed themselves in navy, gray, black, or drab demobilization suits and went back to work.

This impulse to rebuild had an undeniable religious underpinning. Its theme was renewal. In the sense of resurrection, it even possessed a Christian spirit. It could be argued that Labor’s most secular ambition was also a turn to God. A demonstration of faith or Pascal’s wager, it did not matter. Man having consistently failed his fellow man for the better part of the 20th century—what other choice did they have? It was faith—whether in God, in science, in history—that drove the organizers of The Festival of Britain. And, paradoxically, it was perhaps the loss of faith that drove the “Geometry of Fear” group.

Still, London was littered with the detritus of war. The slow unwinding of the war could be found on kitchen tables throughout the isle where butter, milk, and eggs continued to be rationed as if they were luxuries.

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The Festival was the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down. It offered sights and sounds that had not yet taken hold of the popular imagination but would, in time, set the tone and manner of a modern Britain.

It was immensely popular. Popular with the public and also with what we call today the creative classes, as would reshape British arts, crafts, designs, and sports for a generation. It was meant to prepare the people for the new socialist state, the welfare state. It signaled the end of austerity and could be said to have anticipated Carnaby Street and Swinging London. It anticipated today’s City of London.

The Festival as envisioned offered the familiar with a measured dose of modernism. Gerald Barry, the Festival’s director, described it as “a tonic to the nation.” British historian Kenneth O. Morgan described it as a “triumphant success” for the people. The journalist Harry Hopkins saw it as clean, bright, and new, noting, “In an island hitherto largely given up to browns and dull greens, the festival boldly espoused strong primary colors.” One of a cynical disposition might add that the Festival was an experiment in the pacification of the people. It was a more nuanced use of bread and circuses—one that replaced a smart salute with a sleight of hand.

It was wonderful. A dreamscape not real estate. A restored Sceptred Isle. It was broad, bright, and inclusive. It shouted progress. It was also highly politicized. British advances in science, technology, and industrial design were displayed, and set against a background that promised to slam the door on the past. It marked a new beginning. The people were allowed to dream again. It was not a world fair, or an international trade fair, it was meant to be British. British for the blokes and toffs and everyone in between.

Although the Festival was a nationwide celebration, its geometry was drawn squarely on the South Bank of the Thames. It would, as promised, offer the people hope, a plan of the cities to come, one made up of pleasure gardens, an amusement park, monumental buildings and icons. And, wrapped up in the parcel was an invitation to participate in a national rebirth.

But it was not entirely British. The architecture and signs and symbols were drawn from the international style. Britannia’s glories proved too fragile to carry its people into the new world order.

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Which might help explain why it would last only a year and then pass like a pleasant dream. What Labor built the Tories would raze. The colossal Dome of Discovery, the largest dome in the world, would vanish. The futurist Skylon tower, 90 meters tall, was demolished and sold for scrap.

The Festival’s ice cream-for-everyone veneer and the ticklish promises of a bright, new, beautiful tomorrow brought to life by new technology and innovations, concealed a dark secret. Its egalitarian spaces, bright colors, and contemporary typography and runes were all inspired by the secret language of science.

Mr. Churchill dismissed the whole of it as “three-dimensional socialist propaganda.” Alien propaganda that would be broken into many little bits and consigned to the dustbin of history. Depending on your point of view the destruction could be described as an act of patriotism, or of conservative vandalism.

Much of the graphic and decorative design was inspired by the molecular patterns of the kind revealed in X-ray crystallography. The future had arrived, and it was nuclear.

The one building allowed to remain standing, the massive Royal Festival Hall, the famous “egg in a box,” was built on the site of the former Lion Brewery. The monumental building, which eschewed familiar English classicism, would be enshrined as the first post-war building protected by law. If this was a concession, it was not to the deferred dreams that inspired the Festival, but rather to a universal truth. It would seem that Labor’s inward gaze never lost sight of Britain’s global ambitions.

The drawings and paintings in this show are not meant as graphic or painterly representations of the Festival. The most obvious difference is the overall tones used by the artist. The Festival was festive by design. Cunningham’s palate chiefly consists of gray and earth tones. Even when color is used—an unexpected blue sky, or a hint of red that’s more rust than red—the effect adds little cheer to the painting. It is drab by design.

is work is not the Festival.

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The most detailed paintings and drawings in this show—the representations of the docks and industrial landscapes, the images of the Dome of Discovery and of the Skylon—merely punctuate the fact that the holiday ended. A larger admission would be that all holidays, regardless of the spirit that raises them, end. There, perhaps, is the works’ connection to the “Geometry of Fear” group.

Cunningham’s deft hand and eye show that verisimilitude or realistic detail and classic composition can disguise an artist’s true intent. In this sense, painterly attributes pushed by a draftsman’s exactitude work as camouflage. Which is to say, the paintings and drawings have nothing to do with The Festival of Britain and what it was intended to accomplish. Rather, they reveal in full what the Festival worked so hard to deny.

Each painting offers a point of departure, but you have to find your own way home.

The Festival was populated. It was crowded, and the crowds had a great time. The people got their money’s worth. They had fun. There was music in the air, and they danced. There were colors, and there was laughter. That was history and not art. History is secondary, even tertiary, to the larger truths hidden beneath oils and charcoal and chalk.

Cunningham’s work asks that you look, not glance. He rewards the attentive eye, even as he addresses the engaged mind. When one looks and sees, the eye takes one beneath and beyond the surface. The apparent, the obvious, have charm and power. But the whole of the show takes one very far from the gallery. This is especially true of the square and rectangular pieces. Within their frames are all the ruins, ancient or industrial, that may at some time have stopped you in your tracks. Ruins, say, in America’s Rust Belts that, of course, have no relation to those in the show.

The visitor may find it ironic that Cunningham’s emphasis on representation is not a repudiation of the abstraction and instinct that marked the work of the “Geometry of Fear” group. The casual viewer is right to ask, where is the connection? The connection is in mood. Cunningham’s work leaves one not sad but bereft. Something is lost—although we may at first be at a loss to say exactly what.

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The oils and charcoal and other media create surfaces and shadows, while the composition defines the imagined spaces. Yes, there is a bend in the river, and along its banks are power plants, factories, docks, depots, and, in some works, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. In others works, the dominant icons of the Festival are clear as can be but lit in gray and funeral tones.

Ninety percent of our attention is dominated by a picture’s composition and only 10 percent held by color. The world wants to be seen, and one obliges this demand by looking for similarities. But the artist looks for differences. The framed work is charged by the tension between the desire to name what we see and our suspicion that we have no words to describe what the eye takes in.

The perspectives are neatly laid out, the distances are approximate, and the proportions are satisfying, but what are we to make of the relentless solemnity? Why are the horizons ethereal? Why can’t they be reached?

Good art is looked at. We cannot help ourselves, although we can’t always trust our eyes.

By allowing your eye to travel from the center of a piece, while looking down from your omniscient point of view, you can imagine at work the machinery of everyday life. But any sound you hear would be a figment of your imagination. The silence is absolute. And because it is the quiet of space, it is both beautiful and terrible. These are landscapes that encourage you to both linger and run from. Or the viewer may float free from the tactile and the physical. But our eyes look for patterns. We are shape-hunting beings. In the end, it’s composition that holds a picture together.

The truth beneath the Dome of Discovery was a lie. Contrary to best laid plans, discovery does not necessarily mean progress. In the case of the Festival, the signs were there for all to see: the roof of the Hall of Discovery mimicked a bronze Greek battle shield. Its great dome could be read as a mushroom cloud. And, the elegant, minimalist, Skylon—did it suggest anything more or less than a rocket, and less a ship to the stars than a V2 missile? (Within seven years the Soviet Union would launch its first ICBM; a year later, America launched hers.)

Those young British artists were daring the establishment to deny their truths. Both the Tory and the Labor establishments. 76


The “Geometry of Fear” group did not appear out of a vacuum. It was aware of European Modernist work. Some of the members lived and worked on the Continent. Its particular preoccupations were not uniquely British, so an all-British festival would not appeal to its sensibility. Theirs was the right work at the right time. What struck those who saw it in Venice was authenticity. A presence that was indisputable. The work shown at the Biennale occupied a specific place, both spatial and temporal. It demanded attention and, so, contemplation. Wherever it was conceived, it belonged there. Cunningham’s work, his landscapes, industrial sites, as well as his heavy moored freighters and, of course, his representations of the Dome and Skylon, are not copies. They are original works and so possess an authenticity the critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin described as “an aura.” Aura is a difficult term, and Benjamin’s own use of the word, as well as that of a generation of interpreters, makes it so useful as to have no use at all. But I apply the word here to describe a felt aspect of Cunningham’s work. An aura is not a conclusion, but it is an undeniable truth inherent in an object. The aura is also independent of the image it represents. These works have truths they want to tell.

While the physical subjects of Cunningham’s work no longer exist, their absence does not deprive them of meaning. There is no waste in a wasteland. An absence is every bit as revealing as a presence. Officialdom, regardless of temperament, creates propaganda. Communications, which are both didactic and entertaining. Twentieth-century propaganda was elevated to a science. Churchill was not wrong about the Festival. It was propaganda. It was also bad propaganda, as it could not keep the promises it made. It was a socialist dream, as unattainable as it was unpersuasive. In a year’s time, Churchill was returned to power. The Festival of Britain had to be sacrificed so that a different reality could occupy the space it had claimed. The metaphor of the atom was insufficient; it was time to acknowledge the new reality. After the Festival was shut down and just a few months after the triumphant “Geometry of Fear” group was celebrated at the Venice Biennale, on October 3rd, in 1952, Britain detonated its own atomic bomb.

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Labor envisioned a Britain shaped by their Festival—a party for the people and of the people. The Tories had their own sense of order, its figurehead their new Queen, Elizabeth II. A monarch for the 20th-century, and she was afforded all the pomp and circumstances that justified the Tory cause.

Events do not entirely recede into the past. Our nightmares are recurring.

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c on t e x t 80


“Brief City” The official transcript of the 1952 documentary, courtesy of the United Kingdom National Archives.

Patrick O´Donovan: 8.5 million people visited this place. They came here all through the summer of 1951. I went with Sir Hugh Casson; he’ s the smaller of the two, and we had the place to ourselves. Yes, it was over, it was part of London´s past, it had joined all the other exhibitions, all the crashing military parades, the glittering state occasions, all the ceremony and display that helped to make the public life and tradition of this capital city. Most of it has been pulled down by now, but I remember too the first time we went there. As soon as you pushed through the turnstile and passed impatient attendants there was a surprise, a sudden sense of space and leisured gaiety. Sir Hugh Casson: That screen was built to cut off the darker side of London. Trees and grass were planted to act as a foil to the painted walls and the metal. An exhibition ought to have an air of gaiety, and the colours were as carefully considered as the forms of the building.

Sir Hugh Casson: That´s what we hoped for, we built it as a place to walk about in, a place if you like, for pleasure. Outside there were the thundering dark bridges that lift the railway over the miles of dark Victorian streets, there were pubs for hurried beer drinkers and grey churches run up on the cheap. Outside the soot and the smoke were in charge, inside it blazed with bright nursery colours.

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the edge all the way round, you could walk round this thing and, at every pace, the proportions, the shape and the view changed. It was not simply a gigantic mushroom; it was a considered work of art as well as an achievement in engineering. And the Skylon, well that was a simple formula in three dimensions, in steel and aluminium and wire. Every part of it did precisely the job it was designed to do. Why, simply to hang up a bit in the air and astonish. Really, the place was like a gigantic toyshop for adults. It was a series of surprises; now serious, now witty, now rather vulgar, now even a little mad, the British sea side was celebrated in a crowded corner by the river, a mixture of rock shops, of roundabouts, of donkeys, of pointless models that merely pleased, or bright temporary awnings and bits of rope and netting. All together, it somehow captured that inexplicable lift of the heart that hurrying into sandals and sports shirts, that placid sitting on the sands, that brief forgetting of the office and the factory, which happens when the British go down to the seaside for their holidays.

Patrick O´Donovan: This was the building that attracted the most attention. It was the largest dome that had ever been built, it was rather like a ship, it was a live thing that moved and strained with the changes of weather and temperature, its roof was both carried and tethered by those slender spars that were hinged, so that they could move and give a little when the wind caught one side of the building. The side walls supported nothing, they were no more than curtains against the light and weather, and they were not the same distance from

Sir Hugh Casson: We meant this exhibition to be part of London, not just a piece of clever eccentricity. The British don´t generally like rhetoric in their buildings, there are few ceremonial avenues in our cities, on purpose then, the South Bank had no processional way and no great vistas. On purpose, it didn´t have the symmetry and the

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over some low rooftops. But here on the South Bank we tried to give London a new riverside, and this meant more than building an embankment, the water had to be part of the architecture and this meant light open railings beside the water, and balconies suspended above it. The Riverside Walk was designed to use these devices so that water became part of the show. You saw it from half a dozen different levels as you walked between the buildings. The details all looked as if they had been carefully considered, the peculiar statues in important places, the chairs that tired people sat on, the lettering that lost people looked at, the bins for nice people to put their paper in.

repetitive grandeur of some other great cities and their exhibitions. It was planned intimately, like rooms opening one out of another. Each room or courtyard differed in size and shape, and colour, character and furniture. Sometimes the change from room to room was made between the narrow openings between the shoulders of buildings. Sometimes by a sudden change of level and sometimes by a change in the pattern and texture of the ground. Every courtyard contained the hint of another to follow, or the memory of one just passed. And this was not merely exhibition antics, devised to surprise and impress, it was in fact basically the traditional way of building in this country. Patrick O´Donovan: The most powerful citizen in England, the Prime Minister, lives like a professional man in a plain house, on the side of a narrow cul-de-sac. London is a city of secret places, of unexpected country lands and hidden gardens. In London, even the splendour of St Paul´s Cathedral is throttled by drab warehouses. The River Thames was once London´s busiest highway. But today London turns its back on the River, the average Londoner, like all Englishman, is fond of the water, but is only indirectly aware of it. For him it´s an off stage presence, a distant hoot from a tug, a sudden hollow rumble from beneath the rails of a railway carriage, perhaps a ship´s funnel, seen for a second

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Sir Hugh Casson: Buildings aren´t just boxes with four walls and a lid, they´re as complex as the lives we lead, there are no fixed rules, they must be practical and pleasant, and nowadays of course they mustn´t cost too much. And we tried to suggest here some of the things that can be done. The garden and terrace can be made to come right inside, or the roof to swing out above lawns. Staircases can arch out apparently unsupported into the air. In an exhibition which is temporary and perhaps experimental, these devices are of course exaggerated. But they´re part of a modern architect´s stock in trade, and they´re being applied every day to ordinary building problems, to schools and houses, shops and factories. Some of the walls may have looked thin, but with modern materials a thin skin can do the same job as a thick wall, because the thinness is not guessed but calculated. when they got lost. There were the lovers that were indifferent to it all. There were people who began to feel uncomfortable yet hesitated to ask. There were cautious intellectuals who´d seen better in Stockholm and Paris. There were the foreigners in un-English clothes who secretly got stared at behind their backs, while they were often amazed at this spectacle of the British at their ease. There were people who wanted tea, and people who wanted a four course dinner with two sorts of wine.

Patrick O´Donovan: In among these unfamiliar shapes, there were the visitors, and they were not dwarfed by the show, they were part of it. There were the thousands of women whose feet hurt and weren´t going to give up. There were clusters of fierce little boys, filled with their secret purposes. There were suspicious housewives who wondered what they´d have to buy the disappointed ones who wanted free samples. There were the militant individualists who weren´t going to take any notice of the officious arrows, and blame the organisers

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light hearted, sensible, not too dear, practical and never boring. It was also the setting for the pageantry that British people love. It was a setting for the horrible things that happen under English skies. This is a time when the lights go on in the ordinary streets and people think of what to do and where to go. This is the time when night falls in the city and across the river, and cars glisten in the street lights. The noise in the business districts drains away and in the suburban roads there´s only the sound of quick feet on a pavement. There was half an hour when the lights struggled with what was left of the day. And then in the artificial glitter the music took charge, and then it was most lovely and least serious. It is not a usual custom for people to dance in public in England, but here the place and the occasion seemed to demand it. People enjoyed this, even if they had to dance grotesquely in overcoats and late in the year. It may have taught the men who are building our cities something, it may have given impetus to a new approach to building here in Britain. But for ordinary people, it was fun. There were no resounding proud messages here, no one was taught to hate anything. At a time when nations were becoming assertive and more intolerant, here was a national exhibition that avoided these emotions, and tried to stay rational. In a bad year in the world´s history, it had a spiritual quality that is worth remembering.

And all of them in a special mood, slightly excited, slightly exaggerated. A mood that had been made by the building, the colour, and the music. Sir Hugh Casson: One of the greatest successes of the South Bank was the North Bank, a great stone drop curtain of familiar buildings, familiar, but here perhaps really seen for the first time. We used this existing scenery with care, emphasising, exaggerating, screening. Big Ben was withheld from view and then suddenly revealed, a Victorian block of flats looked like a fairy palace crowned with a forest of flags and turrets. The dome of St Paul´s floated above London but beneath a mobile sculpture. And we used other fixtures too, a barge dock that had been exposed by the bombing, was patched and painted to serve as a yacht basin. The old ship tower was topped with a radar device. The site wasn´t bulldozed flat like a pre-war housing site just to make things easy and level and dull. There were flights of steps that led from one area to another. They formed plinths for buildings or settings for fountains. They linked or separated, they dramatised or played down. Patrick O´Donovan: Buildings are the settings in which men move, and they can affect his way of life almost as much as his diet and his clothing. A well designed town is part of his wealth. Here at the South Bank there was a blueprint for new towns,

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Pa u l Jam e s C u nni ng h am Paint what you know. Over and over again. I have effectively painted the same headlands, horizons, skies, aerial views of buildings and industrial wastelands for over 30 years, often employing the use of the same composition over and over again.

The paintings therefore help to stimulate a sensibility, a renewal of memory of moments of perfection. The origin of the paintings is not nature but something already fashioned out of it. Painting is derivative and it draws inspiration from other styles. What matters is not content so much as the effect on the function of consciousness. However devious my experience of nature may be, I am never truly cut off from it and can never really shake it off.

Exploring the same expressive and melancholic realism that conveys an understanding of a certain kind of existential fear, a pervading state of homelessness. My reference material consists of a handful of old photographs of my native Northern Ireland, most of which were taken by my father of places we visited when I was a child.

To achieve an open sense of space and dimension I employ the use of oil paint mixed with cold wax on raw linen, a surface that affords “tooth� and allows for skipping and dragging. The wax creates an impasto that gives mass and luminosity simultaneously. The result is tactility and added dimension.

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index of works 1, 71

XIII

18, 19

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

7

The Dome Under Construction

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 25”

21

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 20” x 30”

8

Shot Tower & River Reclamation

22

Geometry of Fear

12

Shadow I

23 24

Shadow II Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 18”

15

Doldrums & Austerity

26

Christmas Day Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 10” x 26”

32

Collateral Damage II

41

Skylon Under Construction

Time and a Half

Under the Skylon, No Support

34

River

42

35

Shipyard Pattern Drawing

43

38

January 1949

44

39

January 1950 Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 13” x 20”

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 11” x 15”

91

South Bank I Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 18” x 18”

45

South Bank II Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

48

Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 13” x 20”

Insendiary Damage Drawing

River II Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 21” x 14”

Graphite on Canson Paper 10” x 13”

Shot Tower & River Reclamation Drawing

River I Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 9” x 10”

Graphite on Canson Paper 10” x 13”

Crow’s Nest

Power Station Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 7.5” x 21”

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 23” x 18”

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 11” x 15”

27

Wigwam

Black Pool Pier Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 7.5” x 21”

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 23” x 18”

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 23” x 18”

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 20” x 30”

16

31

Collateral Damage I

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 23” x 18”

25

40

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 23” x 18”

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 11” x 15”

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 18”

13

30

Big Entrance

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 11” x 15”

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 30” x 25”

Geometry of Fear Drawing Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 15” x 11”

Charcoal on Watercolor Paper 11” x 15”

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 25” x 36”

11

29

Shot Factory III

River III Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 7.5” x 18”

49

Victoria Docks 1951 Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 7” x 21”


50

River IV Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 8” x 18”

51

Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 7.5” x 21”

52

58, 59

61

Shipyard Pattern I Oil, Wax, Charcoal, & Oil Pastel on Cold Pressed Board 15” x 19”

94

66

69

III

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

67

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

Credo Quia Absurdum Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 16” x 12”

92

XI Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

VI

X Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

70

V

IX Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

IV

VIII Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

River V Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 8” x 18”

II

VII Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

Sulfur Atomic XVI Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 8” x 23”

60

The Dome of Discovery Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 8” x 21”

68

I Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”

Dome & Skylon 1951 Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 10” x 18”

57

65

Insendiary Damage Charcoal & Oil Pastel on Raw Linen 13” x 20”

53

Triangles

Thames

XII Oil & Cold Wax on Raw Linen 8” x 16”


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What you seek to destroy or deny, you reinforce … or you become it. The vindication that the “Geometry of Fear” group enjoyed at the 1952 Biennale di Venezia could not lighten the angst that informed its work. It did not lessen the chill of the Cold War, nor take away the stench of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The artists worked with the same urgency and passion that has always informed the preaching of prophets. Half a century later, the group fills a chapter in the story of post-war modernism.

The British Establishment did not necessarily see their work as mutually exclusive from putting on a really good show. It would be unfair to assume that Churchill, Attlee, et al, did not believe in the Peaceful Atom. Today, we can see it all again through Cunningham’s gray, uninhabited spaces. We can hear it all from cries that rise from all its forsaken places. “Geometry of Fear” succeeds in so many ways, but perhaps most of all by taking us to a place that is everyplace, a place where everything is troubled but nothing is disturbed.

The over-the-top optimism promoted by The Festival of Britain was never intended to “ban the bomb.” The bomb was always in the works. The fireworks and bunting acknowledged just that.

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untitled 2.0 u n t i t l e d 2 g a l l e r y . c o m

Paul James Cunningham // Untitled 2.0 // Geometry of Fear  
Paul James Cunningham // Untitled 2.0 // Geometry of Fear