John Furnival, Gotcha!, 1986, Silkscreen on cloth, 240 × 152 cm, Edition of 75
Courtesy of Archivio Conz, Berlin
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  • Silkscreen on cloth
  • 240 × 152 cm
    (94 ½ × 59 ⅞ inches)
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  • John Furnival was a British artist, a leading figure of visual and concrete poetry since the 1960s, and a beloved teacher in the community around the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham. Between 1954 and 1957, he served in the National Service, receiving Russian lessons in Scotland and then working as a translator at the War Office in Whitehall. He later studied at the Royal College of Art in London (1957–59) with David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj. In 1960, Furnival moved to Gloucestershire to teach at the Cheltenham School of Fine Art and Stroud College. That same year, he married the textile artist and fervent collaborator Astrid Belling. In the following years until 1998, Furnival taught at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham and then at the Bath School of Art and Design. With contemporaries such as Tom Phillips, Hansjörg Mayer, and Ron King, he played an active role as an educator during an influential and innovative era of experimentation in the fields of literature, typography, and the performative arts. In 1963, together with Dom Silvester Houédard (a.k.a. dsh) and Edward Wright, Furnival founded Openings Press (OP), specializing in the dissemination of concrete and visual poetry of peers such as Ian Hamilton Finlay. Other presses followed, such as Satie’s Faction in honor of the composer Erik Satie and the Openings-Closings Press. Alongside the calligraphic quality of his letters and words, Furnival’s work is characterized by drawing. He described himself as a draughtsman of landscapes, characters, and wordscapes created by marking letters, words, sentences, or long passages on paper, cardboard, or large screens. Furnival favored the recurring themes of the tower and the maze developed with infinitesimal precision. Examples are his exceptional The Fall of the Tower of Babel (1963), now part of the permanent collection of the MACBA – Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, and his elaborate works on panels, such as Europa and Her Bull (1966), acquired by the Arts Council of Great Britain. Between 1979 and 2010, John and Astrid Furnival made several trips to Italy, exhibiting in acclaimed institutions and often residing with Francesco Conz. Since 1965, Furnival participated in significant exhibitions, such as Between Poetry and Painting at the ICA – Institute of Contemporary Art in London, later appearing in the seminal anthologies Concrete Poetry – An International Anthology (1967), edited by Stephen Bann, and Anthology of Concrete Poetry (1967), edited by Emmett Williams for Something Else Press. His works are included in the collections of the Tate and the British Museum in London, as well as in the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry in Miami Beach. He has participated in numerous exhibitions at international institutions in the United States, France, Italy, and Russia.

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