Gill Biography

Gill was born in 1882 in Brighton, Sussex (now East Sussex) son of a non-conformist minister, and in 1897 the family moved to Chichester. Eric studied at Chichester Technical and Art School, and in 1900 moved to London to train as an architect with the practice of W.D. Caroe, specialists in ecclesiastical architecture.

Frustrated with his training, he took evening classes in stone masonry at Westminster Technical Institute and in calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where Edward Johnston, creator of the London Underground typeface, became a strong influence.

In 1903 he gave up his architectural training to become a calligrapher, letter-cutter and monumental mason.

At this time, Gill's interest in art, religion, and politics were developing in diverse, often contradictory directions. His first experiments in sculpture won the approval of such influential artists and critics as Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, Roger Fry, and William Rothenstein. They admired the primitive vigor of his work and also its technical polish, a combination that prompted flattering comparisons with archaic sculpture on one hand and the newly fashionable Post-Impressionist art on the other.

A German patron introduced him to Aristide Maillol, hoping the two artists would work together and learn from one another. During a brief and intense friendship with Jacob Epstein, he collaborated on the monument for Oscar Wilde and joined in wild plans to build a modernist Stonehenge in the Sussex countryside.

On a much smaller scale, Gill carved in Hoptonwood stone a Golden Calf, originally intended for a London cabaret but eventually loaned to Roger Fry for the Second Post-Impressionist exhibition, where it was surrounded by paintings of Picasso, Matisse and Cézanne.

In 1904 he married Ethel Hester Moore (1878–1961), and in 1907 he moved with his family to "Sopers", a house in the village of Ditchling in Sussex, which would later become the centre of an artists' community inspired by Gill. There he started producing sculpture – his first public success was Mother and Child (1912).

Gill never quite renounced his heritage in the Arts and Crafts or the patronage of the London art world, but he adamantly refused to be identified simply as a craftsman or an artist. He constantly sought other labels, other ways to fix a special place for himself in a society that he believed to be oppressive and unjust. He had a disputatious streak, a craving to be heard, a compulsive urge to take sides on the social issues of his day that could be satisfied only by sampling, asserting, and rejecting a profusion of political and religious allegiances.

He dabbled in socialism, attended meetings of the Fabian Society, and spoke vociferously against the factory system. But he soon wearied of the discipline and obligations of political action, left London, and joined a community of craftsmen in Ditchling, Sussex.

In 1913 he moved to Hopkin's Crank on Ditchling Common, two miles north of the village.

In 1914 he produced sculptures for the "Stations of the Cross" in Westminster Cathedral. In the same year he met the typographer Stanley Morison. After the war, together with Hilary Pepler and Desmond Chute, Gill founded The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling, where his pupils included the young David Jones, who soon began a relationship with Gill's daughter, Petra.

In 1924 he moved to Capel-y-ffin in Wales, where he set up a new workshop, to be followed by Jones and other disciples. In 1925 he designed the Perpetua typeface, with the uppercase based upon monumental Roman inscriptions, for Morison, who was working for the Monotype Corporation. This was followed by the Gill Sans typeface in 1927–30, based on the sans-serif lettering originally designed by Johnston for London Underground.

In the period 1930-31 Gill designed the typeface Joanna which he used to handset his book, An Essay on Typography. Gill soon tired of Capel-y-ffin, coming to feel that it had the wrong atmosphere, and also being too far from London, where most of his clients were.

In 1928 he moved to Pigotts near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, where he set up a printing press and lettering workshop. He took on a number of apprentices, including David Kindersley, who in turn became a successful sculptor and engraver, and John Skelton (1923–1999), his nephew, and also noted as an important letterer and sculptor. Other apprentices included Laurie Cribb, Donald Potter and Walter Ritchie. Others in the household included Denis Tegetmeier, married to Gill's daughter Petra, and Rene Hague, married to the other daughter, Joanna.

In 1932 Gill produced a group of sculptures, Prospero and Ariel, for the BBC's Broadcasting House in London. In 1937, he designed a postage stamp for the Post Office, and in 1938 produced The Creation of Adam, three bas-reliefs in stone for the League of Nations building in Geneva. During this period he was made a Royal Designer for Industry, the highest British award for designers, by the Royal Society of Arts and became a founder-member of the newly established Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry.

A deeply religious man, Eric Gill published numerous essays on the relationship between art and religion. He also produced a number of erotic engravings.Gill died of lung cancer in Harefield Hospital, Uxbridge, Middlesex in 1940.
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