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Eric Gill Paperback – 1989

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An English artist-craftsman in the tradition of William Morris, Eric Gill (1882-1940) exemplifies the search for a lifestyle to heal the split between work and leisure, art and industry. He is remembered today for his fine engravings and stone carvings, his legendary typefaces and book designs for the Golden Cockerel Press. Yet there was another side to the man, downplayed by previous biographers: a fervent convert to Catholicism and leader of three Catholic arts-and-crafts communes, Gill had a hyperactive libido which extended to incest with his sisters and daughters, as well as numerous extramarital affairs, according to British writer MacCarthy. He rationalized his penile acrobatics by inventing a bizarre pseudoreligious theory. In MacCarthy's candid portrait, Gill, who preserved the outward image of a devout father-figure, was neither saint nor humbug, but a highly sexed creative artist trapped by his Victorian concept of masculinity. This charismatic firebrand was a renegade Fabian socialist, a bohemian friend of Augustus John and Bertrand Russell. His adventurous life, as re-created in this beautifully written, absorbing biography, is disturbingly relevant to our time. Photos.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Sculptor, engraver, and one of the 20th century's greatest typographers, Gill considered himself a craftsman, never an artist. A devout convert to Roman Catholicism, he believed in an integrated, religious life centered on the home and on making one's own clothes, food, and crafts. Yet despite a happy marriage and adherence to certain Victorian ideals, Gill flaunted traditional morality by engaging in countless affairs as well as incestuous relationships with both his sisters and daughters. Largely ignored by earlier scholars, these intriguing contradictions are fully explored in this carefully researched and uncensored biography. MacCarthy remains nonjudgmental yet inquisitive as she searches for the essence of this puzzling man. Through her skillful treatment, Gill emerges as a commanding figure, vital and brimming with creative energy rooted in masculine sexuality. Recommended.
- Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571143024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571143023
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gill's art has no equal. It stands alone as sophisticated primitivism, as demonstration of where Art Nouveau could have flexed some muscle, and as an oeuvre of startling breadth. Although he called himself a stone-carver, he's most widely remembered today as a type designer (Gill Sans, anyone?) and woodcut illustrator. Since those are inherently reproducible media and stone is not, I can't say I'm surprised that they're how his reputation spread.

More than that. Gill was a devout Catholic (at least in later life), borderline or occasional socialist, and productive writer on his notion of The Good Life, one where worship, art, and livelihood merged together into one unified whole. Reading his philosophy and autobiography, one gets the impression of some holy being, left on earth to elevate the rest of us. And, in fact, he might very well have been that.

At the same time, he had trouble keeping friendships (with men, at least) past the first conflict - and, where his will and ego were concerned, conflict seemed certain, sooner or later. Many people advanced his life and career at different times, often with significant financial support. His gratitude toward them was a matter of cheap and easy words, if he even bothered with that. And his notions of Man as the lord of his household took on a somewhat predatory tone, as his private diaries showed, in bedding so many of those who came under his influence, sister, daughters, and possibly family pets included. (One can barely imagine how his wife came to grips with that part of her husband.
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Format: Kindle Edition
In her Introduction Fiona MacCarthy sketches out a picture of Eric Gill (1882 to 1940) which differs greatly from reverent earlier biographies written by fellow-Catholics. These were reluctant to dwell on the contradictions in Gill’s character - the guru of a simple and spiritual life on the one hand and his rampant sexual life on the other. The author brings out these and many other contradictions very well, and the reader will be torn between admiration and dislike. The book also has many illustrations and photographs, some of which perhaps come out better in the printed edition than they do on the Kindle. They make us familiar with the Gill style.

He was the second of thirteen children of a Protestant clergyman who was very Victorian: patriarchal, strict, admonitory, but warm. Although Eric would turn against most of what his father had stood for, MacCarthy traces many of his later interests and attitudes back to his childhood.

At the age of 15 he went to an art school in Chichester, where he developed an interest in lettering, which would become intensified and which he practised in both its calligraphic and its carved form when he moved to London at age 18 to study architecture. (It was not until he was in his fifties, in his last years, that he actually designed a building: a church at Gorleston-on-Sea.) He was at that time committed to the Arts and Crafts philosophy and to William Morris’ socialism, and he saw himself as a working man. He soon got enough lettering commissions (the diplomat Count Harry Kessler, a lover of fine books, was a great patron) to enable him to marry Ethel, the daughter of a Chichester florist, at the age of 22.
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Format: Kindle Edition
During his lifetime, and for long afterwards, Eric Gill was regarded as a sort of secular saint: exemplary family man, pious convert to the Roman Catholic Church, brilliant craftsman and desiger of typefaces. The latter part of this is true, of course, he was indeed a brilliant craftsman and desiger of typefaces, and at least two of his typefaces (Gill Sans and Perpetua) remain in use. As a human being, however, he was spectacularly awful, and it is thanks mainly to Fiona MacCarthy's brilliant biography that we know this.

To say that Gill was obsessed with sex may provoke no more than a comment that most men are obsessed with sex, and so what? However, most men manage to control their urges most of the time, whereas Gill did not. There was nothing that he didn't try (well, maybe not necrophilia as far as I know): not only did he have affairs with most of the women in his entourage, with servants in his house, with the wives of his friends, and he also did so with his sisters and daughters, with a dog on at least one occasion. There is little suggestion that he was especially attracted to other men but he did once put to the test his expectation that it would be nice to have a male organ in his mouth. Despite all this he regarded himself as a good husband to his wife (and was shocked when his brother decided to leave his wife), and remained in good standing with the Church throughout his life. He created a sort of Dominican order for lay people during his time in Ditchling, the village in Sussex where he lived longer than anywhere else.

All this we learn from Fiona MacCarthy's book, but in addition she provides many illustrations of his work -- drawings, sculpture, type designs, engravings.
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