Relief signed and inscribed 'John Wells/Releif' (sic.) (verso) oil and pencil on board with string and plastic 25 x 33.7 cm. (9 7/8 x 13 1/4 in.)
PROVENANCE: Private Collection, U.K.
John Wells, a key figure amongst the first group of St. Ives artists, is still far too often overlooked. He pioneered the full embracement of the modernist approach, adapted from constructivism, which was brought to Cornwall in the War by the likes of Nicholson, Gabo and Hepworth, whilst strictly adhering to an exploration of the natural elements as typically associated with fellow St Ives artists such as Lanyon and Frost.
A perfect example of this approach; Relief combines meticulously threaded string, modern plastics and discs of pure color (most likely applied using a hand propelled turntable) against naturalist ovoid forms and beige-blue colours suggesting shells and flotsam jostling amongst spume. Given that the current work was most likely created circa 1940-44 on the Island of Sicily in isolation from his contemporaries, it is quite astonishing that there is such a palpable synthesis between Relief and the most crucial and important art of its day.
Relief is of only '5 or 6 similar works' as Wells states in a letter written to the Tate Gallery in 1973, although the actual extent of the series may yet be smaller still as this number could well refer to general Relief works. Until now only two of these works were known to have survived, one in the collection of Anthony Froshaug the other also titled Relief Construction in the Tate Gallery, London. Wells continues in his letter to explain how the Relief Constructions result from the influence of Nicholson, Hepworth and Gabo and that they express a 'deep awareness of the living tensions of the environment'. (John Wells, 1973)