Geometry of Fear By Paraskos, Michael
The phrase ‘geometry of fear’ is used to describe the work of a group of British sculptors who came to prominence in the 1950s. Their work often resembles insect or bat-like forms combined with the human figure. Typically they have rough surfaces resembling hammered and wrought ironwork. There has been controversy over the term ‘geometry of fear’ as it was not a name chosen by the artists themselves. It first appeared in an essay written by Herbert Read to accompany a display of sculptures at the Venice Biennale in 1952. Although Read did not intend to label the artists as a coherent group, the ‘geometry of fear’ quickly became a shorthand description for most of those involved in the Venice show. The characteristics Read identified in the work of these sculptors relate to his wider theory of art. He used the term ‘geometry of fear’ to evoke the angular and spindly sculptural forms that he equated to the fears in society at that time. This was in the context of the recent end of the Second World War, the discovery of the Nazi death camps, and the growing fear of nuclear war between the USA and the Soviet Union. However, Read did not claim the sculptors were consciously illustrating these fears through reference to insects, bats, or other forms that might be read as frightening. Instead, the images emerged from the artists’ unconscious minds without prompting.