Eric Stryker: Situating Postwar Britain
May 26th, 2011
Evaluating the work of multiple artists, photographers and filmmakers working in London in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War, Dr. Stryker is researching new explanations of the persistence of figuration in British art. His work describes a set of distinctly visual and spatial responses to postwar reconstruction and the social conditions it engendered.
The study breaks from histories of reconstruction as a simple process of rebuilding paralleling political and economic redevelopment. Instead, the period is described as a cultural historical process in which changes in the urban and social landscape motivated distinct forms of artistic production. These social factors included the local experience of the decline of British Empire, changes in gender roles, and the rise of youth and gay subcultures. Each of these phenomena produced shifts in the cultural geography of London. Setting aside art historical taxonomies such as social and modernist realism, pop art, and the School of London opens an opportunity to reconsider postwar British visual culture as dynamically engaged with its urban situation.
His forthcoming book will include chapters on diverse artists – including Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Eduardo Paolozzi, Frank Auerbach and Peter Peri – as well as photographers and filmmakers such as Roger Mayne, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and Lindsay Anderson. These figures innovated processes of artistic production that deploy the material properties of various media in pursuit of new modes of figuration. Instead of engaging in a literal representation of a city-in-flux or devising a form of critical art in response to it, these artists developed distinct spatial, procedural, material and figural systems as part of a metonymic engagement with its environment. Postwar British visual culture yielded a variant of realism rooted in the production of social spaces, the social construction of identity, and reproduction of sociological structures and phenomena in material forms.