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Reg Butler

(1913—1981) sculptor


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(b Buntingford, Hertfordshire, 28 Apr. 1913; d Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, 23 Oct. 1981).

British sculptor. He trained as an architect and did not take up sculpture full-time until 1950. In 1953 he suddenly came to prominence on being awarded first prize (£4,500) in an international competition for a ‘Monument to The Unknown Political Prisoner’ (beating Calder, Gabo, and Hepworth among other established artists). The competition, financed by an anonymous American sponsor and organized by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, was intended to promote interest in contemporary sculpture and ‘to commemorate all those unknown men and women who in our times have been deprived of their lives or their liberty in the cause of human freedom’. Butler's design was characterized by harsh, spindly forms, suggesting in his own words, ‘an iron cage, a transmuted gallows or guillotine on an outcrop of rock’. The monument was never built, but the competition established Butler's name and he won a high reputation among British sculptors of his generation. He had learned iron-forging when he had worked as a blacksmith during the Second World War (he was a conscientious objector) and his early sculpture is remarkable for the way in which he used his feeling for the material to create sensuous textures. His later work, which was more traditional (and to many critics much less memorable), included some bronze figures of nude girls, realistically painted and with real hair, looking as if they had strayed from the pages of ‘girlie’ magazines. Butler was an articulate writer and radio broadcaster and he vigorously argued the case for modern sculpture. Five lectures he delivered to students at the Slade School in 1961 were published in book form the following year as Creative Development. He was a widely read man, who numbered leading intellectuals among his friends, and his liberal sympathies were shown by his donation of works to such causes as the campaign against capital punishment.

Subjects: Art.


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