Crowlink, 1974

by William Gear


DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 23.0 x 32.3 ins/ 58.4 x 82 cm
SIGNATURE: Signed and dated ‘1974’ (lower right)
MEDIUM: Mixed media on paper

William Gear was a Scottish painter known for his abstract compositions and as one of the most international in spirit among British artists of his generation and one of the relatively few to make a reputation outside Britain.

Gear is recognised for his fondness for heavy black line as a division of colour, predominately reds, yellows and oranges. He regarded the structure and architecture, like the building of his painting to be the most essential basis of a work.


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    In this beautiful work Gear has moved away from these geometric forms and has permeated the canvas with strong black, purple and yellow bursts to recreate the Sussex landscape. The flickering patches of colour with their ambiguous spatial interplay evocates the uneven terrain of the South Downs; an evocation through colour.

    Crowlink in East Sussex is the gateway to the South Downs National Park, a range of chalk hills across the South-Eastern coast filled with rare plants and wildlife. During the warmer months, the chalk grassland around Crowlink is abloom with wild flowers that attract butterflies. In 1958 Gear had been made curator of the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. Crowlink’s closeness to Eastbourne suggests that this painting is a sentimental snapshot into his life.

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    Born in 1915 in Methil, Fife, William Gear was the son of a coalminer.

    He won scholarships to Edinburgh College of Art (1932-6) and the University of Edinburgh (1936-7) where his studies included art history with David Talbot Rice, the eminent Byzantine scholar.


    Between 1937 and 1938 Gear travelled on a scholarship and spent five months in Paris as a pupil of Fernand Léger. In 1940 he was called up and posted to the Royal Corps of Signals. He served in Egypt, Palestine, Cyprus and Italy and consistently managed to paint and exhibit first in Jerusalem and then in Florence. In 1945 he volunteered to serve in Germany and was posted to the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives Section of Allied Control Commission with the rank of major.


    By 1947 he was back in Paris and it was during this time that Gear established his more progressive credentials, when he became involved with CoBrA, a European avant-garde art movement. Made up of artists from across Europe who favoured spontaneity and experimentation, the group were united in their pursuit of complete freedom and form, as they searched for new modes of expression to fit with their expectations of life post-war. He was one of only two British artists to take part in the CoBrA exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1949. In 1958, Gear was appointed curator of Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne which he left in 1964 when he was appointed Head of the Faculty of Fine Art at the Birmingham College of Art, where he remained until he retired in 1975. In this period, Gear painted dynamic, diagonal black armatures against vibrant detonations of colour, perfecting a new, thrilling evocation of light pulsing through foliage. Towards the end of his life, Gear’s critical reputation was reinvigorated when an exhibition of CoBrA work revived interest in the movement, offering a variety of exhibition opportunities for Gear, one of only two British artists’ featured in the retrospective. He died in 1997 at the age of 83.


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