Belgrave St Ives - Modern & Contemporary Art

John Milne

John Milne (1931-1978)

Born: Eccles, Lancashire

Studied: Salford Royal Technical College 1945-51, Academie de la Grande Chaumiere Paris 1952

Pupil then an assistant to Barbara Hepworth in St Ives from 1952

Milne is regarded as one of the most interesting and sophisticated of the sculptors associated with St Ives, the British post-war avant-garde movement.

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

John Milne: Sculpture of the 60s and 70s from a private collection
Belgrave Gallery London and St Ives
Penwith Gallery, St Ives
Alwin Gallery, London Memorial Exhibition
Gallery Rose, Los Angeles
Gilbert Parr Gallery, London
Allen House Galleries, Kentucky
Wills Lane Gallery, St Ives (with Paul Feiler)
Compass Gallery, Glasgow (with Roger Hilton)
Hertford College, Oxford
Marjorie Parr Gallery,London
Plymouth City Art Gallery
Marjorie Parr Gallery (with Breon O'Casey)
Crane Gallery, Manchester (with Alan Lowndes)

Selected Mixed Exhibitions:

Fundación Joan Miró, Barcelona 'Let Us Face the Future - British Art 1945-1968'

Wills Lane Gallery, St Ives
Saltram House, Plymouth

Wills Lane Gallery, St Ives

Stroms Gallery, Gothenburg

Austin Reed Gallery, London 'St Ives Exhibition'
Travers Gallery, London 'Three Generations of St Ives Artists'
Peterloo Gallery, Manchester, Six Artists

Plymouth City art gallery Touring Show: Six West Country Sculptors

1961 - 65
A.I.A. Gallery, London (annually)

Arts Council of Great Britain, Penwith Society Touring Exhibition

Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington DC 'Eight British Artists- 1978
Penwith Society of Arts, St Ives (annually)
Newlyn Art Gallery (annually)

1950 - 52
Manchester City Art Gallery
Salford City Art Gallery

Selected Bibliography:

John Milne: Sculptor, Life and Work by P J Hodin, 1977
The Sculpture of John Milne by Peter Davies, 2000

Public Collections:

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria,
Vancouver, Canada
Arts Council of Great Britain
Birmingham City Art Gallery
Borough of Eccles, Lancashire
British Embassy, Athens, Greece
British Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa
Camden Borough Council, London
City of Darlington, Durham
Contemporary Arts Society, London
Cornwall County Council, Truro
Government Art Collection
Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry
Hertford College, Oxford
Konstmuseum, Gothenburg, Sweden
Leicestershire Education Authority
Manchester City Art Gallery
Municipal Art Gallery, Dublin
National Gallery of Modern Art
Plymouth City Art Gallery
Royal Embassy of Iran, London
Royal Embassy of Morocco, London
Salford City Art Gallery
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
St Ives Town Council
Tate Gallery, London
United States Federal Court House,
Philadelphia, USA
University of Warwick
Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

John Milne at Belgrave St Ives

Coming exactly 40 years after his untimely death aged just 46 at St Ives in 1978, the current display of over a dozen sculptures by the Eccles-born and Salford-trained sculptor John Milne is a valuable and rare opportunity to see his distinctive and individual work afresh, and appreciate how interesting a sculptor he was. He will always be associated with Barbara Hepworth, for whom he worked as a studio assistant shortly after moving permanently to the Cornish art colony in 1951. By so doing he belonged to a talented group of Trewyn Studio employees including Denis Mitchell, Keith Leonard, Roger Leigh, Brian Wall and Breon O'Casey, each of whom went on to pursue successful subsequent careers. Milne was also Hepworth's neighbour, living immediately adjacent to her at the grand Trewyn House, originally part of the Trewellas Estate that also included Hepworth's post-1949 studio. Milne's memorial to the revered Hepworth, Megalith II, is the only non-Hepworth publicly sited sculpture in St Ives, aptly placed in Trewyn Gardens opposite both artists' homes. Milne's work did however diverge markedly from Hepworth's constructivist approach with its organic associations and allusions through its pierced monolithic mode to a pagan landscape. He appropriated ancient, archaic or classic architectural shapes inspired by frequent travels to Greece, Morocco, Egypt and Persia. These ethnically diverse sources can be seen in sculptures like Poseidon (1970), Persian Monolith (1972), Darius (1972) and Cheops (1977). Allusion to Islamic burial chambers or to temples and sacred architecture in general are features of these elegant, abstracted, streamline forms.

Though settled in St Ives during the productive 1960s and 1970s and represented by the Marjorie Parr Gallery in St Ives and Chelsea, Milne was restless and depressive and never lost the travel bug. His constant travels to the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East owed much to his patron, friend and generous abiding supporter Cosmo Rodewald, eminent Professor of classical history at Manchester University, who stoked his anthropological interests.

During the early 1950s as Milne strove to develop the neo classical terracotta figures produced in Manchester into a more modern abstract manner, Hepworth advised Milne that he needed to emulate the power and expressive force of his charcoal drawings. He achieved this in his reliefs, a key part of his oeuvre, which are a mid point between the two dimensional work and the sculpture. Reliefs like Wave (1967), Delphi (1968) and Shah Abbas (1972) contain the sweeping rhythmic force and tactile power of the drawing while alluding unmistakably to the excavated archeological classical sites he visited at Delphi in the 1960s. Wave also belonged to some reliefs that captured the elusive movements of nature with its storms and changing weather pattern

Milne's friend and critical supporter Bryan Robertson, the distinguished curator and art critic, wrote the catalogue for the large 1971 retrospective at Plymouth City Art Gallery. Crucially Robertson explained that Milne's sculpture was 'often mysterious, but only in origin, never in its concrete sculptural identity.' A metamorphic ambivalence between the organic or botanical and the architectural can be seen in the sculpture as well as the reliefs, and the tall central 'column' or 'stem' in the cold cast aluminium Project (1969) was described by Robertson as shooting up from 'a pair of rigidly clamping petals' at its base.

Milne opted for closed, self-contained geometrical forms and avoided Hepworth's radical formal dialogues between interior and exterior spaces. In the late polished bronze Cheops, with its pyramidal base, Milne reflects a blank-faced minimalism and as such moved with the times in echoing the unadorned cubes or platonic geometry of Judd or Morris. Though related to a box, Intaglio (1969) has an asymmetricality and is subverted by a teasing reflectiveness that opens the flat-sided surfaces to the surrounding environment.

Beyond the formal integrity and well-designed elegance of the sculpture of John Milne lay a seriousness of thematic purpose that invests his enduring work with a depth of meaning as well as providing a continuing sensual pleasure to the eye.

Peter Davies
June 2018