Monday, March 27, 2017

Eric Gill

Eric Gill: A Lover's Quest for Art and God by Fiona MacCarthy, 294 pages

"Clear, clean, and hard."  The words could be used to describe Eric Gill's life as well as his art, art and life being inextricably intertwined in his philosophy.  His sculpture, lettering, politics, religion, and relationships were all ideally "clear, clean, and hard."  Such strength of definition, expression, and passion could only be the result of contrast and conflict.  Fiona MacCarthy's biography demonstrates that Eric Gill was indeed a man of harsh contradictions - a recluse and an exhibitionist, a man who craved stability but couldn't stop moving, a rebellious individualist and an ostentatiously devout Catholic, an agrarian thrilled by locomotives, an erotic ascetic - and his life was spent attempting to reconcile these contradictions - to unify work and play, art and craft, community and ambition, flesh and the spirit.  

MacCarthy's biggest revelations - that Gill's sexual adventures included incest with one of his sisters and at least two of his daughters, as well as experiments with homosexuality and bestiality - are made without sensationalism.  This is a reflection of MacCarthy's attitude towards her subject's duality - rather than regarding him as a pious hypocrite, a megalomaniacal would-be cult leader, or a struggling sinner, she casts him as an unfortunately failed sexual revolutionary.  Whether or not this is the best perspective on Gill's life and work, McCarthy's biography remains the definitive biography of a remarkable - and remarkably complex - man.

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