Reg Butler 1913-1981

Born in Buntingford, Hertfordshire, Reg Butler was a British sculptor, draughtsman, and printmaker, although an architect by training (his work included the clocktower of Slough Town Hall, 1936). He began making sculpture in 1944, without formal training, but architecture remained his primary activity until 1950, when he gave up his practice and became the first Gregory Fellow in sculpture at Leeds University. In 1953 he came to prominence upon being awarded the first prize (£4,500) in the international competition organised by the Institute of Contemporary Art for a 'Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner' (defeating Calder, Gabo, and Hepworth among other established artists). Butler's design was characterised 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 - one of the models is in the Tate Gallery, London - but the competition established Butler's reputation among the finest British sculptors of his generation. Butler's later work returned to a more figurative style: producing three or four works a year, he focused on sculptures of nude women in contorted poses, exploring the stresses and strains of the female form.

Butler learned iron-forging when he worked as a blacksmith during the World War II (he was a conscientious objector) and iron remained his preferred material, although he was a sensitive draughtsman and made drawings as independent works whilst also producing a few lithographs and wood engravings. An articulate writer and radio broadcaster, 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 taught at the Slade from 1951 to 1980). He died in 1981. 

A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art, 1999, © Ian Chilvers