South of the River
The Mantis Lamps by Bernard Schottlander quickly made their way into our hearts upon reissue by DCW in 2013. As a collection it straddles the area between art and design, it's inspiration drawn from both Bauhaus design principles and also the work of artists such as Alexander Calder. In honour of it's arrival into our permanent showroom display this month we thought we would look into the story behind the pieces and their creator. In Bernard Schottlander we discovered a man whose life trod the path between art and design in much the same way his objects did.
From his earliest years Schottlander was surrounded by art. He was born in Mainz, Germany in 1924 to a family of art enthusiasts who owned pieces by Klee, Baumeister and Kandinsky amongst others. The rise of Nazism and the resulting persecution of the German Jewish population caused Schottlander to flee to England in 1939. He arrived in Leeds where he took up work as a welder in the wartime factories whilst simultaneously taking evening classes in sculpture. In 1944 he served as part of the British Army in India and upon his return earned a grant to study sculpture full time for a year at the Anglo French Centre in London. This was followed up with a spell at Central School of Arts and Crafts learning Industrial Design. Schottlander's dual paths in these related but very distinct fields would form the basis of his entire career.
Schottlander also found inspiration beyond the art that was the backdrop to his youth, other sources included later Bauhaus luminaries such as Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and his fellow photographers of the 'New Objectivity'. 'New Generation' Sculptors such as Anthony Caro as well as artefacts and objects discovered via his friend and respected ethnographer Eva Meyerowitz. The latter of which can be felt perhaps most distinctly in 'South of the River' a huge public sculpture that resides outside Becket House in London, it's form has clear echoes of the Fulani earrings worn as part of traditional wedding rituals in Maui.
Schottlander found inspiration in the work of contemporaries such as Anthony Caro as well as the work of ethnographer Eva Meyerowitz (Images clockwise from top left: 1. Early One Morning by Anthony Caro, 1962 2. Fulani Earring's part of traditional wedding rituals in Maui. 3. 19th century Asante Gold Weight from Ghana, Schottlander was intrigued by their raised geometric ornamentation).
Calder and Biomorphism
The inspiration for the Mantis lights can be seen clearly in the mobiles of Calder, the interplay of balance and imbalance is realised both in the movement of the shade and in its counter-weighted body. A fascination with nature also played a role; the lamp is not just Mantis by name but also in it's distinct biomorphic appearance and movement. The lights were even described by design academic Catherine Moriarty as "carnivorous Cold War plants" in her essay accompanying his retrospective exhibition in 2007.
A Shift in Scale
In spite of this success, in 1963 Schottlander turned his back on design and focused instead on his other great passion, sculpture. His work scaled up when he made the transition, the delicate beauty of his lighting was replaced by huge structures, too big for galleries - finding their home instead in the realm of public art.
It was an interesting time to make this move - functionalism was the byword for the architects of the time - and there was no place for arbitrary ornamentation in their projects. In addition budgets were tight and it was difficult to find an architect willing to carve out some of the funds to pay for art. Schottlander's design past stood him in good stead in this respect as he understood the somewhat contradictory desire for "functional art in utilitarian modern architecture". As a result Schottlander received several commissions and his sculptures can be found punctuating spaces across London and the UK. As you can see from the images below the fascination with balance, the way each object is designed to interact with the space around it, the use of colour and formal associations are all as apparent in his sculpture as they are in his design pieces.