Dorothy DICK

Biography

Dorothy Dick's career as engineer and mathematician was preceded by a degree in Maths and Physics at Glasgow University (she was born in Glasgow in 1932). In parallel with this she developed her interest in art by training part-time in the Sculpture department of Glasgow School of Art (1960-65, with Paul Zunterstein), and earlier, when her career had taken her south to England, at St.Albans School of Art (1956-59). At the age of 40 she gave up full-time engineering and in the mid-eighties retired from her part-time post with Britoil in order to sculpt full-time. To her studio in Glasgow was added a property in the far north of Scotland (Scourie, in Sutherland), which was developed to create both another studio space and the Dorothy Dick Gallery; the latter has been open to visitors throughout the summer months since 1989.

Dick's sculpture is figurative: carved in wood (sometimes in stone) or modelled in clay and cast, usually in ciment fondu. She carves in the traditional way with mallet and gouges, filing and sanding and finally waxing the surfaces to a soft, matt finish. She uses both native and tropical hardwoods: oak, elm and lime but also iroko, opepe and mahogany, which have a less pronounced grain and a richness of colour. Her sculptures in wood are usually executed to a scale appropriate to domestic interior spaces; her cast works vary and are occasionally scaled for outdoor sites. Dick acknowledges Henry Moore's major influence on her work, but references to African carving are also apparent, for example, in her masks and carved heads.

She has exhibited with the Open Eye Gallery, 1979, Henderson's Gallery 1981 (both in Edinburgh); RSA (Edinburgh), RGI (Glasgow), Glasgow Society of Women Artists; Hughson Gallery (solo exhibition 1988) and the Lillie Art Gallery, Glasgow. Her work is in private collections in England, Holland, Switzerland, USA as well as Scotland.

Selected Works 32

Critics

Two Sculptors On The Margins - Mary Spencer Watson And Dorothy Dick

That sculpture can delight in a wide variety of forms and materials has been amply demonstrated over the past hundred years, to the extent that when adhering to its historic core materials and subjects it risks being pushed to the margins. Critical and media attention tends to focus on what appears more exploratory. Exploration, however, does not have to be directed only towards finding new materials and imagery but can seek new expressive scope in matter and materials whose sculptural value has been established over time. This is quite clear from the work of two sculptors with distinct voices and achievements but who have worked both critically and geographically 'on the margins', the work of one of whom has recently enjoyed a comprehensive, albeit privately financed, exposure, and of the other awaits similarly munificent patronage.

Mary Spencer Watson's work was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition within the Cathedral and Close of Salisbury and in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in the autumn of 2004, accompanied by the publication of a catalogue raisonne. Born in 1913, she has lived and worked from childhood on the Isle of Purbeck, on the southern margin of England, not far from Corfe Castle in Dorset. Her father was the successful painter and portraitist George Spencer Watson RA, who in 1923 was able to buy the enchanting if then primitive 17th century (and earlier) stone manor house at Dunshay on Purbeck as a country retreat, not far from fashionable Studland and within the stone-quarrying district which in the Middle Ages had produced the Purbeck 'marbles' widely used for column shafts in the earlier phases of Gothic architecture. She was thus exposed from childhood to the academic skills of draughtsmanship in the figurative tradition and to the 'earth sciences' of stone quarrying going on all round her. From her mother too, active in dance and mime (in which she herself also joined), would come concern for narrative and expressive gesture (especially of the hands) - and a love of animals.

Four years of training in sculpture - that is, in modelling - at the Royal Academy, were followed by a year at the Central School under John Skeaping (still married to Barbara Hepworth at that time) who introduced her to carving, and then, after she had already had her first solo show at Heals, by three months study with Ossip Zadkine in Paris in 1938. The Salisbury show illustrated clearly the elegance and virtuosity she had already by this time attained - for example in the small terracotta figures Elisha and Elijah of 1938 inspired by study of Tanagra figures in the British Museum. Later, themes with a clear provenance in the work of the two key mentors in her sculptural training, as well as in the Romanesque sculpture that she also studied in France, were developed with an increasing sense of her own spiritual interests. From now on her work is almost all carved, often with animal themes reminiscent of Skeaping's work, and sometimes highly finished like his to bring out the grain of the material, or figure themes with expressive drapery and prominence given to the hands, more roughly carved in the manner of Zadkine (whose post-war City Destroyed commemorative sculpture at Rotterdam makes such powerful use of hand gesture). Whilst post-war the work of the leading figures of Modern sculpture in Britain, Moore and Hepworth, pointed very clearly towards rounded and increasingly abstract form, Spencer Watson's carved work was faceted and figurative, even narrative in character. Its sense of plane reflects Zadkine's Cubist-inspired work but allows a stronger sense of the weight of the original block to remain and exhibits perhaps a more direct emotion, as in such works as Woman with Bird and Crouching Figure, both of 1947. Sometimes the corner of a roughly square block is used to form the ridge of the nose in the sculpture of a head, with the features carved almost in shallow relief on the planes to either side, as in the much later Boundary Stone Man of 1988, bought by Elizabeth Frink.

These interests set her apart from her contemporaries, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick and Kenneth Armitage, who enjoyed official patronage at the Festival of Britain of 1951 and Venice Biennale the following year, but instead she obtained commissions for sculptural works for schools. The fine Portland stone Eland of 1952 is an example, typically bringing together Man (or Child) and Animal. This phase culminated in the 1956 commission from the architect Sir Edward Maufe for two human-size angels for Guildford Cathedral. Roughly carved in limewood and part-gilded, with magnificent folds of drapery, the hands once again play an important role. One angel, like the Musician of 1955 whose intense lyricism of expression had won her the commission, holds a stringed instrument (though is not in this case playing it), the other holds her head in a gesture of contemplation.

The virtual exclusion of sculpture from architecture by the end of the 1950s and the increasingly unsympathetic artistic climate seem to have led to a period of loss of confidence, and only one work is recorded in the catalogue raisonne between 1960 and 1975 - two glazed ceramic figures 240mm high. Then in 1975, in Spencer Watson's 62nd year, a renaissance began, which continues to this day, advancing the themes from her earlier years. The works produced are too numerous to mention, but include the stone carvings The Hand of God of 1987, in which the motifs of hand and corner-head are at their most expressive, and The Earth is the Lords's of 1989, an almost life-size male nude bending forward to scoop up the soil with his hands, both laden with spiritual feeling. But the achievement that evidently stands out in the sculptor's mind is the group of four Purbeck stone sculptures approximately 1000mm high representing the Symbols of the Four Evangelists, from 1992, which now stand outside Wells Cathedral. This is a bold and worthy challenge to the finest collection of medieval statuary in Britain, and at the same time an affirmation that the tradition of carved figure and animal sculpture can still have intense vitality. Salisbury Cathedral has little medieval sculpture to compare with Wells. For three months at the end of 2004 the work of Mary Spencer Watson supplied the want.

From southern margin to northern, to Scourie, not far from Cape Wrath, the north west tip of Scotland, where Dorothy Dick is based. She is a sculptor with a very different career to Spencer Watson, but sharing a primary interest in the human figure and in carving, though with wood predominating over stone, and with clay modelling forming a more important part of her work. This part of Scotland is, like the Isle of Purbeck, an area of great geological interest and one moreover where the extreme rockiness of the terrain makes the geology very apparent. The geology again seems to have played a key part in arousing a sculptural sensibility. In her childhood Dick was a frequent visitor to this area, where her mother originated, and spent much time on the shore line strewn with boulders, which she still draws. She was born in Glasgow in 1932, and though she was attracted to sculpture as a schoolgirl her family was not connected with the arts and it was not considered a viable career. So she entered Glasgow University to study Mathematics and Physics. This led after graduation to work for English Electric at Luton in the early days of computers simulating the performance of missiles on an analogue computer - and the opportunity to begin her formal art training in the evenings at St Alban's School of Art. A return to Scotland in 1960 to be with her parents led to Enrolment in Evening classes at Glasgow school of Art where study of sculpture could begin in earnest , and to work at S.S.E.B. (The South of Scotland Electricity Board ) including modelling on a computer the operation of Hunterston B. nuclear power station , and work on risk assessment , now as a full member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers . Increasingly sculpture became her prime interest, but still held out no prospect of providing a living. The commissioning of sculpture for schools which had sustained Spencer Watson in the 1950s and Dick's own teacher in Glasgow, Paul Zunterstein, in the same years, had dried up. In 1973 she moved again, first to Babcock and Wilcox - now working part time, on computer programming, - and then to BNOC (later Britoil), on the conceptual design of oil production platforms. From the mid 1980s she devoted herself full-time to sculpture. The stone house which she had inherited at Scourie became in due course her full time home, and she set up a Gallery in an adjoining property alongside her studio to show and sell her work (and some work of other artists) mainly to the summer holiday visitors in the area, whilst continuing as she had from 1960 to exhibit in mixed and solo exhibitions in Glasgow (notably at the Hughson Gallery) and in Edinburgh. Rocky though it is, this area is not an artistic desert: round the 'turning point' (which is the meaning in Norse of the name Cape Wrath, originally 'Hurath',) on the north coast at Balnakiel is a small colony of artists and craftsmen in a former defence establishment, where some work of really high quality is produced.

Reclining Figure

An engineering and mathematical background might have been expected to lead to sculptural work of an abstract or geometrical character, or Caro-like, made from steel. But far from it. The remarkable quality of Dick's work is its almost primitive strength of character, and its 'organic' exuberance. Not much of it is carved from stone, though some is from local Serpentine , (the predominant Lewisian Gneiss is too hard ) , but something of the 'knobbliness' and rawness of the surrounding landscape infuses it. It is not easy - it is a challenge. The catalogue of her work has yet to be published so a chronology cannot easily be identified, but the work to be seen can be described. Henry Moore is an admitted and evident inspiration, and so also is African tribal sculpture, and a struggle can be felt between the knowing sophisticated rhythms of the one and the more instinctive elemental force of the other. The elmwood Reclining Figure of 1993 for example is, at 27', about half the length of Moore's wood reclining figures of the 1950s which it recalls, but the thickness of the legs bent double at the knees, the protuberance of the thorax, the retracted head, suggest a powerful condensed energy, a readiness to spring up at any time and flex its muscles. It is without the echo of classical rhythms that are traceable in Moore and is in a sense more akin to the Mayan Chacmool that inspired him in the 1920s than his own first Relining Figure because the legs are parallel, not in contraposto. Dick's figures bulge. Distinct from Spencer Watson's emphasis on planes, their forms are rounded and very much three-dimensional, to be seen from all angles. There is also no sense of narrative in Dick, but at the same time her work stays closer to the figure than Moore's: there is no tendency to treat it as a bone or a coastal headland.

The role of drawing reflects another telling difference from the practice of Spencer Watson, whose inspiration often comes from the shape of the piece of stone to be carved itself, and so she draws little. Dick, on the other hand, whose work is more often modelled, usually first makes a maquette then tends to draw out a sculpture from different angles before she begins to make it . Powerful brush and pencil drawings of the figure, of landscape and of rock formations, are an important part of her work.

Reflecting the greater 'erectness' or compactness of her sensibility, the standing figure is more often to be seen in her work than in Moore's, and another distinctive feature, reflecting her interest in tribal art, is the mask. The human head, both as a mask and as a full three-dimensional realisation, is pushed and pulled, exploiting to the full its natural asymmetry to achieve maximum sculptural expression. By nature of the process and material, more sense of 'angle' remains in the carve timber pieces than in the modelled work - which is usually cast in ciment fondu from a clay original.

Work of this kind should certainly have a place in schools to awaken the sculptural sensibilities, the warmth of feeling, of their pupils. There have been two new schools built in this area in recent years, in Ullapool and Kinlochbervie, but they are devoid of art. Modern school construction tends to be lightweight and metallic which makes the incorporation of sculpture problematic, even if the PFI (Private Finance Initiative) 'procurement procedure' generally followed by official clients did not virtually preclude it institutionally. But even if the place of art in schools were to regain acceptance, what chance is there that today the choice would be for art of this calibre and character? It would probably not be judged 'relevant'. In a recent competition for an art work for the visitor centre at the famous gardens at Poolewe near Gairloch, Dick's entry was second to a brightly coloured mosaic. But the indomitable strength of expression in her work could and should be seen as an inspiration not only in the area but on a much wider stage. 'I suppose I have arrived at a notion of what makes good sculpture' she has written, 'and have tried by solving formal problems, i.e. via a formal coherence, to create a human 'presence'. Qualities which preoccupy me in sculpture have to do with form, harmony, how one form meets another, presence, poise, intensity, simplification' I don't think art remains as important as it ever was because at present, what science makes possible seems to most people of more interest and importance; but I think art does matter, both science and art matter'.

If there is any historical link between Dick and Spencer Watson it could be in that Fra Newbery, the famous head of Glasgow School of Art and lifelong friend, patron and portraitist of its architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was a Dorset man. On his retirement he settled in Corfe Castle where he became a friend of the Spencer Watson family - and it was he who in 1937, having seen Zadkine's work at the International Exhibition in Paris, recommended that Mary go to study with him.

James Dunnett, 2005