I have written at some length on this blog over the years about the man known as Eric Gill. [See here and here and here for example – there are others too.] I am motivated to add to the already swollen record by an article in The Observer of London by Rachel Cook headlined Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser? I recommend you follow this link and read the (very long) essay.
To clear up one point. Cooke writes: ‘Eric Gill, long dead and widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century…’.
Who considers this statement to be true? What is the source for this assertion? Gill was and never will be considered ‘one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century’. In my opinion, Gill was a sculptor of repetitive talents; however, Gill was a fine letter-carver and useful typographer.
He was also a paedophile, as I have stated in the past. My conflict is that I was heavily influenced by his work as a stonemason, letter-carver and for a long period of time actually sourced his material and went on a sort of pilgrimage to Pigotts [see here].
I will not be able to visit the new exhibition at Ditchling – for those in the UK who can please do and please comment here on your thoughts/reactions. Many artists, perhaps the majority, do, as one observes at the end of Cooke’s essay, have a ‘…libidinous drive…’ and this charges their work – think of Lucian Freud for instance. But this is no excuse for the man Gill.
In Gill’s singular case I argue that, no, it is not possible to separate artist from abuser, neither should we. Yes, there needs to be full transparency in the Ditchling exhibition; and yes, young adults, do need to be told of his incestuous relationships and be told his daughters, and others, were victims (please don’t dodge this by using the politically correct ‘those who experienced abuse’) of his abuse.
Your comments welcome.