Object of the week

While the Pathfoot Building is closed, the Art Collection will each week focus on an object of interest. You can also search our entire collection online here.

2 Stainless Steel Forms with White
Justin Knowles
(Steel, 1969)

The art object from the permanent collection that we are focusing on this week is this striking sculpture by Justin Knowles. Situated on the side of the small loch by the MacRobert Centre, on one side steel and the other painted white, it was commissioned for this location by the University Art Collection in 1970, enabled by the donation of £500 from the British Steel Corporation.

A University press release of the time states that ‘the sculpture was created utilising a technique normally applied to aircraft manufacture instead of welding: the stainless steel was resin-bonded to an alloy honeycomb frame. This method reduces the weight of the structure and eliminates the danger of surface distortion whilst ensuring that it can sustain structural stresses. Although resin-bonding has been extensively used in the aircraft industry, it is the first time that the technique has been adopted for sculpture.’

Born in Exeter, Justin Knowles was encouraged to take up art by school teachers but discouraged by his father. He tried a number of other careers before visiting New York in 1965 and deciding to take up art properly at the age of 30. Though he lacked formal training he enjoyed success immediately, and quickly established an impressive reputation as a boldly inventive painter. Using a limited range of acrylic colours straight from the pot, he produced shaped canvases and free-standing shapes.

‘These were not painted sculptures; they remained paintings, the paint working across the physical form rather than following it’.

Obituary, David Buckman, April 2004 The Independent

This sculpture was commissioned for the brand new University campus during that period. W J Strachan (1984) explained that white was added ‘to help the eye to separate the rising columns of his sculpture ‘Steel Forms’ at the University of Southampton, whereas here, it is added to harmonise with the white building and make an agreeable contrast with the green lawn.’
At the press conference held to mark the handing over of the sculpture, Dr Tom Cottrell, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: “We feel we have a duty to staff and students to provide an environment in which the arts play a full part….we feel that it is important in our comparatively rural setting that we should provide some of the things which students take for granted in say Glasgow or London. And the artist said: “Stirling University is exceptional in its ready appreciation of the functions of arts as part of the environment.”

Tragically, a studio fire in 1973 destroyed most of Justin Knowles’ work, and he would not exhibit again until the 1990s. His final years were successful again, and Winchester and Exeter cathedrals commissioned sculptures.

‘D. Yellow’ by Justin Knowles
(Screenprint, A/P, 1971)

A special series of four prints (originally published by the artist in 1968) was made by Justin Knowles in 1971, to commemorate the installation of his sculpture on campus. These were presented to four key persons involved in the beginnings of the new University which had been founded in 1967.

A. Black, C. Red and D. Yellow were given respectively to Douglas Hall, (first Keeper of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and member of the University art committee), Tom Cottrell (first Principal of the University), and John Richards (Architect of the Pathfoot Building). These three have subsequently been gifted to the Art Collection. The whereabouts of the fourth print (B. Black) is unknown.

archives Written by: