William Pye b. 1938

Provenance

Private Collection, USA

Exhibitions

1969 London, Redfern Gallery, William Pye: New Sculpture (cat. 9; incorrectly listed as edition of 4)

2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction 1952-2007, cat. no. 9, col. ill. p. 35. 

Literature

W. Pye and R. Brown (eds.), William Pye: His Work and His Words, (Suffolk, 2010), full scale work, colour illustration, p. 65.

William Pye’s second solo exhibition, held at the Redfern Gallery in London, opened in May 1969 presenting a selection of bold, playful, and sensuous chromed steel sculptures including Two Cylinders, 1967, and Maquette for Uddeholm, 1969. As a young sculptor in London, Pye was a contemporary of the ‘New Generation’ sculptors, of whom many were Sir Anthony Caro’s students at St Martins School of Art including William Tucker, Philip King, and Tim Scott. Although from the 1970s onwards, Pye’s career gravitated towards large-scale public and private commissions of water sculptures and away from traditional gallery representation, in the 1960s Pye’s sculpture was palpably in and of the artistic zeitgeist. The chromed sculpture established Pye’s obvious delight in the materials and aesthetics of modernity, whilst the seriality of his work – Maquette for Uddeholm is the second of the ‘Tripod’ series whilst Two Cylinders pre-empts his ‘Cancrizan’ series – revealed the modernity inherent to his working practice. Most of the works from the 1969 Redfern show travelled to a further exhibition that same year at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York.

A review of the 1969 show by Michael Shepherd in The Sunday Telegraph proclaimed:

“Slick and shining, glamorous and desirable, his sculptures are full of aesthetic paradox – cool, yet sensuous, demanding and assertive, yet aloof, possessing intellectual clarity yet elusive in form… a justification of the choice of medium and an exhibition of exceptional insight and interest.”

Inspired by an exhibition of Eduardo Paolozzi’s chromed steel sculptures, Pye turned to chrome in the mid-1960s, introducing stainless steel by the end of the decade, developing relationships with steel suppliers, including the Swedish distributor Uddeholm. The medium was, for Pye, inescapably and inspiringly bound up with industry, manufacture, and engineering. The monumental scale of Pye’s later works necessitated the total integration of art and engineering, but engineering achievements had always enthralled Pye. Quoted in the catalogue for his 1979 exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Pye explained, “I’m very much absorbed in trying to infuse into my work the type of sensations one gets on seeing a beautiful motorway bridge…the power, the fragility, the tension”. In 1972, Pye was commissioned to produce Zemran, a vast steel sculpture inspired by industrial landscapes for the British Sculpture ’72 exhibition at the Royal Academy: the work is now situated outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank.

Angled cuts of the steel tubing – as with Two Cylinders – and the subsequent variety of joints to re-attach tubes – such as the swept tie joint of Maquette for Uddeholm - became the lexicon with which Pye constructed his sculpture. The making, however, is never visible: “I wish the objects to appear effortless in their being”. The focus is not the process but the product: the seductive sleekness of the reflective steel, the allure of such a lustrously tactile surface. Pye sought to transform the steel into its antithesis: “Armed with a newly purchased argon welder, I cut, fitted, welded, grouped, dressed and polished the material into compositions that expressed a sinuousness and sensuality that was at odds with this intractable material.” The pieces celebrate the fecundity of the natural world – Pye’s wife was pregnant in 1965 – with organic, curvaceous forms. Rooted in the forms of the natural world yet determinedly modernist in material, feats of sustained engineering experimentation yet modishly elegant; Pye’s chromed sculptures dazzle and captivate with the shock of the modern.