From 23 June 2017 until 1 January 2018, IWM North will present Wyndham Lewis: Life, Art, War, the largest UK retrospective of the artist and writer’s work to date.
The exhibition will be exclusive to IWM North and coincides with the 15th anniversary of the multi award winning museum that brings the national collection to northern audiences.
A radical force in British art and literature, Wyndham Lewis was the founder of Britain’s only true avant-garde movement, Vorticism. He was a controversial figure whose ideas, opinions and personality inspired, enticed and repelled in equal measure.
Lewis was first commissioned as an official war artist in 1917 and the exhibition will comprise more than 160 artworks, books, journals and pamphlets from major public and private, national and international collections. The exhibition will include items from IWM’s own collection and loans from Manchester Art Gallery; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Leeds City Art Gallery; Harrogate Public Library & Museum; Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council; and Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle.
The iconic building designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, Lewis’ art has a complementary relationship with IWM North’s dynamic design. The striking shards of the building bear direct resemblance to Lewis’ Vorticist style of painting, with linear and hard edge shapes derived from the machine and the urban environment.
The award winning Libeskind building intentionally symbolises the effects of war, with the building made up from shards of a shattered globe torn apart by conflict. Lewis’ life and art encompassed the most violent and chaotic period in human history, from the First World War to the nuclear age. His social and artistic circles, including the newly formed Vorticist movement that he founded in 1914, were similarly shattered on the outbreak of the First World War, as followers were scattered by service or killed in the fighting.
From a mythologized birth in Canada, Lewis spent his youth in England and traveled Europe. In 1913, he joined Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops before setting up his own rival group, aptly named The Rebel Art Centre. From there arose Vorticism, its arresting manifesto BLAST encapsulating the restless mood pervading Britain on the eve of the First World War. Serving as commissioned artillery officer during the conflict, Lewis was appointed an official war artist first for the Canadians and then the British.
Wyndham Lewis: Life, Art, War will be presented through key themes including: The Man of the World, Beyond Action and Reaction, The Enemy, Self-Condemned and Sea Mists.
The exhibition will also chart Lewis’ ‘underground’ period of reflection and reinvention after the First World War, when his career as a writer began in earnest. Wyndham Lewis: Life, Art, War will further chart Lewis’ period of self-imposed exile in North America in the 1940s and his descent into total blindness upon his return to London after the Second World War.
Exhibition highlights include The Crowd (1915), from Tate, a large oil painting from Lewis’ Vorticist period; The Armada (1937 ) from Vancouver Art Gallery; alongside works from Lewis’ period as an official war artist such as the monumental canvas A Battery Shelled (1919) from Imperial War Museums’ collection.
Richard Slocombe, Senior Curator at IWM and Curator of Wyndham Lewis: Life, Art, War, said: “One never really gets to the bottom of Wyndham Lewis, he is elusive and contrarian. That’s what makes him so fascinating. Lewis lived through incredibly turbulent times where war, or the threat of war, was ever present. This exhibition will shed light on the work of a highly-gifted, original, but often ignored artist and one of the great personalities of the twentieth century.”
Tickets are now on sale – iwm.org.uk