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Posted 14 March 2016 - 02:14 AM
"Leslie Thornton, who has died aged 90, was a sculptor linked to the celebrated Geometry of Fear group which redefined the medium in post-war Britain.
Thornton, a former Bevin Boy from Yorkshire, is best known for his unique welded works in bronze from the 1950s which feature spiky abstract figures often incarcerated in cages. Thornton said that his figures were enclosed within structures, “to reflect the human predicament. Both playful and threatening”.
His subjects were often benign – men fishing, children sliding, trapeze artists in mid-swing – yet they appeared constrained by malignant forces. His approach was of a piece with prevailing Cold War anxieties, memories of the Holocaust and the emerging existential visions of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. In 1955 Thornton joined Eduardo Paolozzi, Kenneth Armitage and Elizabeth Frink – described by the art critic Sir Herbert Read as the Geometry of Fear set – for the British Council’s international touring exhibition Young British Sculptors. The same year he showed at the New Sculptors and Painters Exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
But although Thornton was in tune with his fellow sculptors, he was never part of any formal movement. While his works blended abstract and figurative elements it was perhaps their unsettling atmosphere that was most striking. “The spaces between and around objects and settings,” Thornton explained, “are almost as rich as the objects themselves.”
Leslie Thornton was born on May 26 1925 in Skipton, North Yorkshire, out of wedlock to Evelyn Thornton, a cotton twister at the nearby Dewhurst Mill. He was brought up by his grandmother Eliza Thornton and never knew his father.
Leslie attended Brougham Street School in Skipton and, aged 14, went as apprentice to GH Mason, a painting and decorating firm. The job required part time study at Keighley Art School to develop skills such as glazing and stencilling. At Keighley, he won a county art scholarship to study at Leeds College of Art. In 1943 he was conscripted to work in the mines as a Bevin Boy to aid the war effort. It was, he observed, “a tough job down pit, it played havoc with my hands.”
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