Stephen Gilbert is one of the few British artists who can be truly described as a Continental artist, hugely talented, and for me there is something quite heroic about his lifetime dedication to his art. Born in Scotland, the grandson of the Edwardian sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert he studied painting at the Slade from 1929 to 1932 and then to Paris. In Paris he was reunited with the sculptor Jocelyn Chewett who he had met at the Slade School, they married in 1935. At the outbreak of war Stephen was declared unfit for military service and the couple spent the war years in Ireland. Painting in Ireland he worked and exhibited in Dublin in 1944 with the White Stag Group.
In 1946 Stehen and Jocelyn returned to a very frugal life in post war Paris. They set up studios together in Montparnasse, studios Stephen would work in for the rest of his life. Showing at the Salon des Surindependants in 1948 his work came to the attention of the Danish painter Asger Jorn who invited him to join the newly formed radical art group Cobra. He was a central figure in the group, working in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Paris. The English painter Willam Gear was also associated with Cobra in Paris.
Through Cobra he formed a friendship with the Dutch artist Constant and they worked together on architectural projects, Stephen's interest in working in three dimensions became manifest and his attentions turned to sculpture. Working mainly with sheets of aluminium he created spatial sculptures with gleaming and reflective surfaces. He became associated and exhibited with the British Constructivist Group. In 1954 he won the First Prize for sculpture at the Tokyo Biennale
In the 1970's Stephen began working on welded sculpture and after the death of Jocelyn in 1979 he produced what was to be his last series of sculptures, groups of tall sombre copper pillars. In the 1980's he returned to painting, loose and bold abstract work that was perhaps redolent of his Irish painting.
This picture is of Stephen, taking a glass in the sunshine with two of my daughters at his atelier in Monparnasse. A modest and self effacing man he had been involved in major art movements in the Netherlands, France, Ireland and England, never seeking the limelight just dedicated to his art. His work is held in many of the worlds leading museums and collections, but despite the acclaim of fellow critics and fellow artists he never sought the spotlight. Early days in Paris for Jocelyn and Stephen had been frugal and his life continued to be lived in a simple fashion, a small rent controlled apartment and modest studios and workshop. It was a life lived for art, Stephen died in 2007.
AGED AND AWKWARD