Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Early Years

Willi Soukop
Dartington, 1934-40
"My life was never planned, it just happened,"

Swan Fountain, 1950, Dartington Hall Gardens

The Donkey, Dartington Hall Gardens

Soukop's Studio, Dartington Hall Gardens

"My work is rather catholic,and ranges over a wide variety of subject-matter as well as materials - my art education was traditional but my chief influence was the German sculptor Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) and travelling and meeting the other artists who widened my horizons, in particular through teaching in England."

Viennese sculptor Willi Soukop came to Dartington in 1934. Dartington was a virtual international centre for the arts and this had a tremendous effect on Soukop, and its influence on him lasted decades, with the friendships formed enduring to his death. He wasn't the only European exile to come to Dartington, the entire Jooss Ballet from Germany,Michael Chekhov and his drama school and Hein Heckroth, who went on to win an Oscar for his set designs for 'The Red Shoes' were all there.

Other influences on Soukop came from friendships with the artists Cecil Collins and the potters Bernard and David Leach.

For Soukop, Dartington became an idyllic haven where he was not only free to carve but was also offered a teaching post, at Dartington Hall School. With war approaching, he had no wish to return to Vienna, but in 1940 he, like many others, was classified as an "alien" and first interned at Aintree racecourse, then shipped off to Canada for nine months until he was released to return to Dartington. He went on to set up sculpture departments at Blundell's School, Bryanston School, in Dorset, and then the Downs School in Worcestershire.

In 1945 Soukop came to London and taught at Bromley, Guildford and Chelsea Schools of Art - where he remained until 1972. In 1969 he accepted the additional position of Master of Sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools and became a member of the faculty for the British School in Rome.

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