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Brian Fell: Steelworks

Upper Space
Current
14 Mar–1 Nov 2020

Brian Fell is well known for his landmark figurative public artworks, including Skyhooks in Manchester, Merchant Seamen’s Memorial in Cardiff Bay and YSP’s HaHa Bridge. However, his abstract work, which is the foundation of everything he does, has not been exhibited since the 1980s.

These collages and constructions in steel, card and wire have been created in the evenings, at weekends and in quiet studio time between major commissions. An artist who thinks by making, the compositions in this exhibition are inspired by engineering, architecture, nature and music. A lifetime of fabricating sculpture and wrestling with aesthetics comes together in these complex but elegant constructions.

Born in Liverpool in 1952, Fell grew up near the docks and was fascinated by the scale and structure of this industrial environment. He continues to draw on this imagery in his abstract work. In the last few years he has begun to use colour and often develops his ideas through paper collages and constructions. He moves easily between abstraction and figuration, believing that each informs the other. In the late 1970s, Fell studied Fine Art at Manchester Polytechnic, where he became inspired by the sculpture of his tutor Michael Lyons and the work of other artists who pioneered working with steel, such as Anthony Caro and David Smith. As a young sculptor, Fell was awarded an Artist in Industry Fellowship at a steelworks in Sheffield, where he was surrounded by the drama and spectacle of production.

Unlike traditional blacksmithing techniques of heating the metal, Fell creates his sculpture using cold forging, a method of shaping the steel by hand using hammers, levers and vices. This physical, hands-on making process is an important part of the artist’s practice. Fell’s longstanding relationship with YSP began as a student, and he was awarded a Henry Moore Fellowship in 1990. Throughout his career he has continued to generously share his knowledge and skills with many visiting artists at YSP, where he currently has a studio. Since 2011, George Fell, Brian’s son has worked in partnership with him on major commissions.

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