FROM CONSTRUCTIVISM TO REALISM
by F. D. Klingender
Foyles Art Gallery
The Work of L. Peri from 1918 to 1936
Design for an apartment block, 1924
At the height of the fashion for abstract art in this country an exhibition showing all the essential stages in the development of one of the pioneers of that art when it first emerged more than 15 years ago is of the greatest interest. This is particularly true if the career of the artist in question throws light on the problem, most urgent today, of the perspectives for abstract art, of the possibilities of developing beyond the abstract phase.
Peri is a sculptor first and foremost. Like so many of his fellow Constructivists he never received an art education in the accepted sense of the term, but he mastered the technical problems of his craft by practical study in mason's workshops both in his native Budapest and later in Berlin.
Peri's work, from the earliest drawings represented at the exhibition to the latest bas-reliefs, draw its aesthetic vitality from its virile economy of means. Every piece represents a particular phase in a consistent struggle for the mastery of the sculptor's medium - the relation of shapes in space as a means of succinct and convincing expression in an age revolutionised by the achievements of modern science and industry.
From expressionist beginnings this struggle led the artist to the complete negation of traditional content in the formal purity of his Constructivist designs (Berlin 1921-24). His vast wall decoration for the Berlin exhibition of 1923 (represented at the exhibition in a linocut reproduction) marks the final achievement of this phase and at the same time its end. The purification of form as a means of expression had reached the stage, where only the living contact with the reality of modern existence, which it was destined to express, could save it from formal petrefaction.
The struggle for the achievement of this contact, for the mastery of the new content in a manner as striking as it is sincere, is shown in the artist's work of the last twelve years. lt is characteristic that Peri did not, like the majority of the abstract artists of the time, apply the new discoveries in the technique of transmitting experience to the tasks of commercial publicity.
Instead he first attempted to concretise his art in the architectural sphere. After four years of technical preparation he was employed as an architect by the Berlin city council. Yet his new activity did not enable the sculptor Peri to solve the problem with which he was now grappling. His architectural designs were still inspired by the dictates of abstract form, rather than by the requirements of their living function as buildings.
There followed a period of five years in which the artist returned to linear and plastic exercises in the manner of the great masters of the preceding generation: studies of movement, drawings and bronze sculptures of massive nudes and figures at work. It
was only in the last year of his Berlin period (1933) that this prolonged struggle for a new content mastered by a new technique achieved its first fruition in his group of a Berlin workers’ street corner meeting. To the new subject directly inspired by the living experience of modern existence is added the new and essentially modern medium of cement.
The solution once found led to an unparalleled release of creative activity. Since settling in London in 1933 Peri has produced a whole series of groups, figures and bas-reliefs of ordinary men and women and of children directly observed in the various activities of their lives. In these, as in his brilliant pen drawings of London street scenes, Peri is not concerned with a mere photographic reproduction of literary themes.
Catalogue for the exhibition