On George Fullard and history

The sculptor George Fullard seems little remembered outside his native Sheffield these days. Within the city, his memory is kept present in physical form: ‘Mother and child’, ‘Angry woman’ and ‘Running woman’ outside the Upper Chapel in Norfolk Street, and ‘Walking man’, outside the Winter Garden in Surrey Street; all of which were executed in clay in 1957 and cast in bronze long after his fatal heart attack, at the age of just fifty, on Christmas Day 1973. (Fullard was fortunate to have lived even half a century, having almost died when hit by fire as he was getting out of his tank at the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944.)

They are curious, very distinctive sculptures, full of movement. ‘Walking man’, my favourite, is almost a caricature. In his 2016 monograph on Fullard, Michael Bird says that it is ‘possibly modelled on a Darnall resident known as Long Sammy’.

‘Walking man’

In profile, the ‘Walking man’ has a certain similarity to the headmaster when I was at secondary school. In an ideal world, I’ll write a poem, at a tangent, for each of the four sculptures – I’ve started, but I may not finish.

Bird’s excellent book contains this journal entry by Fullard, from 3 July 1966:

History in the conventional sense is merely tangible evidence [. . .], the means by which all can be proved guilty – not just the murderer. The real truth cannot be formed into rational evidence – it is the lost facts of life outside that which could be recorded as history. History, the known evidence then, is hardly of interest in itself, but only to the extent to which it gives clues to the truth outside the evidence. The truth behind history is not ‘known’, it cannot be told, but it can be realised and the realisation can be manifest. This is not ‘evidence’ – in the sense of history – but it is a kind of testimony – therefore ‘the secret history of our times’ is what the artist is manifesting and concerned with. This is true of all ‘artists’ in all ages – evident in the work for all to see.
  
‘The secret history of our times’ is the means by which innocence (as opposed to guilt) is revealed.

It’s no surprise to me that John Berger was Fullard’s first great champion among British art critics of the 1950s, since Berger had a similar outlook – both were Marxists as young men and adopted more nuanced, but still radical, viewpoints as they got older. I have a quote from Berger which, more succinctly, says more or less the same as what Fullard was getting at here (and which will be an epigraph for my second collection if it ever appears). It’s what I try to make manifest in my many memory poems, another eight of which will be published in the next three months.

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