Provenance: Private Collection, London, acquired from the artist in the 1950s
Exhibitions: The Challenge of Post-War Painting: New Paths for Modernist Art in Britain 1950 - 1965, James Hyman Fine Gallery, London. 3 June - 4 September 2004. William Turnbull, Heads and Figures 1953 - 56, James Hyman Gallery, London, 23 September - 12 November 2004.
Literature: William Turnbull: Heads and Figures 1953 - 56: Rare works on paper from a private collection, James Hyman Gallery, London, 2004, (cat. 12), illustrated p.11. The Challenge of Post-War Painting: New paths for modernist art in Britain 1950 - 1965, James Hyman Fine Art, London. 2004, (cat. 7), illustrated p.35.
Untitled (Calligraphic Head - Grey) has a close relationship to a group of circular reliefs of heads that Turnbull also worked on at this time and also parallels the recent sculptures of one of Turnbull's friends, his fellow Scott, Eduardo Paolozzi, in which the impressions of cogs and wheels and the embedding of machine parts suggest man as android as well as flesh and blood. In each case the surface itself and the marks upon it are highlighted. The use of silvers and grey is appropriately metallic and the range of marks and of forms used by Turnbull in Calligraphic Head is such that without clear guidance it is not explicit whether this brutal vision is of man or machine, human or cyborg.
The result is apparently abstract, but what interested Turnbull, especially, was the way a mark could also be read as a sign, could be both as itself and as a symbol of something else. As Richard Morphet explains in the catalogue for Turnbull's Tate Galllery retrospective: The Head (Calligraphic) paintings are manifestations of Turnbull's intense curiosity at this period about the nature of signs and sign-making. He was intrigued by the multitude of signs instructing the citizen in modern society to do things. He read widely about the development from pictograph to sign to symbol. At the same time he noticed in teaching how students' manual gestures frequently seemed more vital when they were mixing paint than when they applied it to the canvas. Thus in these paintings he attempted to make marks having the general character of drawing, writing or signs, but entirely free from denotative significance. This was another means of focusing, for artist and spectator, the autonomous reality of the action and of the work produced.
(Richard Morphet, 'Commentary', in William Turnbull: Sculpture and Painting, Tate Gallery, London 1973, pp.31-33)
We are grateful to William Turnbull for his assistance in cataloguing this work.