Saturday, 29 December 2012

Claude Flight: the low-down


In spite of all the hooey about the Grosvenor School of Modern Art and the five-figure prices artists associated with the school are fetching (and, let's be honest, folks, they're never worth it), Claude Flight has not been that well-looked after. The reason is quite simple. There has been no biography, not even a monograph that summarises his life and career. Stephen Coppel, the leading British authority, certainly knows his stuff, but even so, bald facts of themselves, are unenlightening. So, I thought I might combine some images of less common prints by Flight with one or two ideas, for what they're worth.

Until Julian Francis wrote 'Tom Chadwick and the Grosvenor School of Modern Art' (just published by the Fleece Press), no-one had written anything, so far as I know, about the actual way the school worked, so Julian's book is a welcome and sane addition to what we know. It resists hype - and we have had hype almost beyond endurance - and talks calm sense instead. Me, I sit down and write these posts, then re-read them some months later and am aghast at my own chutzpah.


That aside, Flight deserves some calm appraisal. His life was just as underprinted as the prints he went on to make. It builds unwittingly from early failure to get into the Navy to receiving the Credit Agricole from the French government for his service during the first war. He was no more an ordinary soldier than he was an ordinary printmaker. He may well be irritating and posturing at times, but he is rarely dull. That he moved through the various fads and fashions of the twenties and thirties, is obvious; that contemporary writers still go on about the Vorticists and the thrill of modern life, is less so - by far. It was Flight himself who disagreed with them when he said, 'I am of no school'. I can understand that a newspaper journalist at the time needed a phrase like 'The Trogolodyte Artist' to get the attention of readers, but all the talk of Vorticism is not much better.

Flight picked up things as he went along, there's no doubt of that but his work to unfold the underlying structures has something in common with his father's work on meteorites. The role that Edith Lawrence played when he eventually met her in 1922, doesn't seem to have been worked out in any detail, though. There is alot less known about her, and what she was doing at the time, but of all the partnerships that existed then, theirs may well prove to be one of the most compelling.

It was certainly enduring. Fatefully, they left London during the Blitz for Wiltshire. Their studio off Marylebone Road was then bombed in 1941, and all Flight's lino-blocks were destroyed. They stayed on at Donhead St Andrews where Flight survived a devastating stroke in 1947. Lawrence, who was nine years his junior, looked after him for another eight years, untill he died forgotten in 1955. Not so very vorticist after all.


  1. A very touching and human portrait of the man rather than the artist Charles. You do him great justice.

  2. Thanks, Clive. We've both had a go at Flight, but I tried a bit harder here to distinguish between mockery of the hype and his real worth as man and artist. A post like this can only just about point the way. But you know yourself just how much of an effort can go into even a little piece like this, vero?

    1. I've just seen this. Yes, there is definitely a need for a book on the Grosvenor School of Modern Art which covers the whole of its history and the many artists associated with it. My book, Tom Chadwick and the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, covers some of this, but there is a lot more to be written. Maybe I'll have a go!

    2. Well, I think you should, Julian. I feel guilty because I've been meaning to write to you ever since Simon sent a pdf file of your book before Christmas, but I was away in Morocco, then have been snowed under with background reading etc. You know how it is. And it's not easy reading the book at a pc. I was very intrigued that you knew so much about the Grosvenor. I must get back to you about that.

  3. The book is just out. I think Simon will be sending you a copy. It also has some information on some of the Australians who were at the Grosvenor in the 30s. As part of the book I was keen to pull together some information about the Grosvenor and Macnab (he also needs a better book) and Kermode (there is a very good b+w linocut of his illustrated in the book). I shall visit the Macnab archive at the National Library of Scotland shortly. The Bibliography in the book (and the books and articles mentioned in the Notes) will guide you to where my information came from. I also had a tour of 33 Warwick Square recently. You can call me on 01305 848295; my email is