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23 July 2019

 

In 2014, Kettle’s Yard staged an exhibition of early and new works made by Gustav Metzger and curated by Lizzie Fisher, inspired by the artist’s longstanding connection to Cambridge and his interest in science. As a new exhibition in King’s Lynn reveals, Metzger’s connections to the Eastern region extend beyond Cambridge, and began in King’s Lynn in 1953.

Destroy, and you create…Gustav Metzger in King’s Lynn is the first exhibition to explore the first decade of Metzger’s career as an artist, when he was living and working in north Norfolk between 1953-1960. It reveals a sensuous, heady experimentation with materials and media in contrast to the often cerebral character of Metzger’s later work. This is an exhibition that wouldn’t have been possible five years ago, because the works on show had been thought lost until they were rediscovered in a loft in London in 2012. Many of the works on display have never been exhibited before.

Following an argument with his mentor David Bomberg, Metzger sought to get ‘as far away from London as possible’ and found himself in King’s Lynn. He lived and worked out of a warehouse space at 30 Queen Street, in which he sometimes organised exhibitions of other artists’ work – from Edouardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull to Monica English, a local artist and Wicca – and began to experiment with his own artistic practice. Although for the first three years he practically abandoned art-making, this was a particularly creative and formative period for Metzger. It was here that his ideas about the relationship between destruction and creation began to evolve; in 1957, he organised an exhibition of religious icons mutilated and disfigured during the English Reformation, entitled ‘Treasures from East Anglian Churches’ as part of the King’s Lynn Festival, and it was here in 1959 that he made his first auto-destructive artwork, painting acid onto nylon, and wrote his first manifesto for Auto-Destructive Art.

Gustav Metzger, Painting on Galvanised Steel, 1958. Courtesy the Estate of Gustav Metzger.

At the same time, Metzger’s political activism began to take shape and he became heavily involved in campaigning against nuclear weapons. He took part in the Aldermaston marches and was a founding member of the Committee of 100, using non-violent civil disobedience as a form of protest for which he would serve a month-long prison sentence, alongside Bertrand Russell, in 1961. He later declared that ‘everything I know about activism, I learned in King’s Lynn.’

‘Destroy, and you create…Gustav Metzger in King’s Lynn’ is at the Fermoy Gallery in King’s Lynn until 3 August as part of the King’s Lynn Festival. Curated by Lizzie Fisher.