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SYBIL & CYRIL by Jenny Uglow


Cutting Through Time

by Jenny Uglow

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-374-27212-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 A dual biography of two British artists who created a powerful modernist aesthetic.

From 1922 to 1942, Cyril Power (1872-1951) and Sybil Andrews (1898-1992) worked together as artists, garnering acclaim for their strikingly dramatic linocuts. Award-winning biographer and historian Uglow creates a palpable sense of their nourishing relationship, the “energetic restlessness” of their artistic circles, and the changing world to which they responded. Viscerally attuned to “the dizzying mood and unease of the late 1920s and early 1930s,” at the same time, writes the author, they “looked back, to a dream of a pre-industrial life.” Though holding different religious convictions—Power was Catholic; Andrews was drawn to Christian Science—“both thought intensely about faith.” They met in Bury, England, where Power, married and the father of four, was an architect and teacher; Andrews, teaching at a local school, was an aspiring artist. Power, when he chanced upon her drawing, offered advice. In 1922, Andrews left Bury for art school in London. Soon, Power abandoned his family to follow her. For the next 20 years, they worked together, traveled together, shared a studio, and exhibited their work together. They also played period instruments in their own musical ensemble. Friends saw them as a couple, but Andrews insisted later that their relationship was entirely platonic. Whatever intimacy they may have shared, they spurred one another’s creativity. Both took up etching—London churches, colleges of Oxford and Cambridge—hoping to sell prints to academics, former students, and tourists. Both saw linocutting as an exciting technique that leant itself to the dynamism, action, and “radical simplicity” they sought to convey. “Lino itself,” Uglow writes, “was a modern, ‘democratic’ material, machine-made, efficient, cheap.” A generous selection of images reveals their aesthetic preoccupations: Power’s with railways and stations, light and shadow; Sybil’s swirling patterns often depicted physical labor, “part of her rebellion against prettiness.” A chronology of their exhibitions testifies to their renown.

A vivid, engaging portrait of a productive artistic partnership.