The first UK show in 40 years devoted to the artist described as ‘the precursor of modern sculpture in Britain’
Something of a polymath, Leon Underwood was a sculptor, painter, draughtsman and engraver, as well as a writer, illustrator, scholar, teacher and stained glass and furniture craftsman. During his lifetime he travelled across Europe, South America and Africa, founded a magazine, set up a drawing school, studied cave painting and won the Prix de Rome – but went to Iceland instead.
Born in 1890, Underwood worked as a camoufleur during the First World War, creating observation posts that looked like trees. He produced a series of sketches and paintings recording his daily tasks – several of which are shown here in Chichester.
In the 1920s and 30s his work found new direction thanks to his extensive travels abroad. Inspired by African, Mayan and Aztec carvings, as well as the cave paintings of Altamira in Spain, he developed a 'New Philosophy' for his work.
Determined to get to grips with the cultural and technological feats from which they originated, he wrote a number of books on ancient African sculpture, including a study of the Ife and Benin heads.The sculptures that followed reflected the philosophies of primitive art and were praised for their groundbreaking potential.
Back in London Underwood set up the Brook Green School of Drawings where he cast bronzes, sculpted carvings and propagated his ideas about primitive sculpture as 'forms created by inspired belief'. He counted Henry Moore, Eileen Agar and John Buckland-Wright among his pupils; Moore in particular would later speak of his indebtedness to Underwood's teaching.
The exhibition includes his sculpture, paintings, prints etchings, wood-engravings and colour-linocuts, providing a fascinating insight into this diversely talented artist.