Fragment (1956-59): Initial Investigations and Conservation Objectives
History and Description:
Bold, robust and distinctive, Fragment is a stand out piece of Clarke’s early open-cast abstract relief work in aluminium and glass. The piece was cast in shape with multiple elements used to create a deep impression into a bed of sand, with molten metal poured into the mould in order to form the peculiar aluminium frame structure and protruding tubes.
The sweeping blocks of layered glass inserts combine harmoniously with the dense metal composite, enticing the viewer to look more closely at how the piece was made. Fragment is characteristic of Clarke’s work of this period, in being imbued with religious and symbolic imagery. The work was created by request of Hugh Casson, architect and interior designer, to provide a focal point to a room setting ‘instead of a fireplace’, and was intended to form part of Flat ’56, an exhibition of wallpapers and fabrics early that year.
In the development of Clarke’s works in glass, Fragment represents an important stage between his mosaics (1949-55) and fully three dimensional works in aluminium and glass for Ipswich Civic College (1961), Crownhill Parish Church (1961), Taunton Crematorium (1963) and Manchester College of Art (1969). Following the damage and subsequent disappearance of companion sculptural piece Embryo, Fragment now constitutes the sole surviving example of Clarke’s work in aluminium and glass in this style.
Fragment was one of six pieces that Clarke presented in the ‘British Artist Craftsman’ exhibition organised by the Smithsonian Institute, which toured the United States of America in 1959-60. It was toured again and exhibited in ‘The Pleasures of Peace’ exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich, in 1999.
After initial research, a closer investigation into the piece’s current condition was undertaken. A detailed observation highlighted areas of the piece that may require focused conservation treatment. This analysis formed the basis for a condition report and conservation proposal.
Overall, the piece is in a relatively good and stable condition, particularly considering the endurance of physical stresses and changing environmental conditions after extensive touring. It appears that the panel has encountered no previous restorations or repair work, thus the pieces is entirely original and of the artist’s intention.
Whilst structurally sound, there are a number of key features to address with regards to conservation treatment. Firstly, there are two pieces of glass on the interior surface that are loose and becoming detached from their original setting. Without intervention these pieces could weaken further and become damaged or lost, impacting upon the integrity of the composition. Secondly, the aluminium frame and adhered lead strips show early signs of a corrosion product forming that could cause the metal elements to deteriorate further if left untreated. Thirdly, dirt and dust particles have become caught in-between some layers of glass. As well as having a detrimental visual effect, this may cause microbiological growth that could impact upon the future preservation of the piece. The conservation effort will be key in increasing the longevity of the artwork, as well as ensuring that it is displayed as intended, to intrigue and fascinate the onlooker.
Preparing for Conservation:
Fragment is due to be treated at the York Glazier’s Trust studio within the next few weeks. The conservation approach will support the future preservation and maintain the artistic integrity of the piece. The next blogpost for Fragment will detail the methodology and process of conservation at each stage of the process, providing an insight into contemporary conservation approach and practice.
 LeGrove, J. Towards Retreat: Modernism, Craftsmanship and Spirituality in the work of Geoffrey Clarke. Doctorate. University of Derby 2007:p. 130.