JEAN GIBSON (1927-1991) was born in Stoke-on-Trent and studied at Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal College of Art. A member of the London Group, she exhibited regularly from the 60’s until her death in 1991 (galleries include Nicola Jacobs, Oriel Fine Art, Gillian Jason Gallery, Leicester Art Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts) including a solo show at the Redfern Gallery in 1994 to celebrate her life’s work. She was married to Anthony Whishaw RA who is still actively painting.
Her later work has been described as ‘organic minimalism’, ‘modernist austerity’ and ‘….the contrast between strength and fragility, purity and sensuousness’. Her work “….erupts and extrudes, energising and activating the surfaces…white spaces on which she would literally impress or express her feelings”
- Mary-Rose Beaumont, Art Critic
A work by Gibson 'Drawing 1’ (1989) entered the Jerwood Collection in 2023.
Gibson is represented in the Woman’s Art Collection along with works by leading international artists including Paula Rego, Maggi Hambling, Lubaina Himid and Judy Chicago.
The Woman’s Art Collection is a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art by women at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge. The largest of its kind in Europe, the Collection is on display across the iconic College, designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in 1962-64 as a manifesto for the education of women.
Gibson is featured in the book ‘Contemporary Woman Artists’ written by Wendy Beckett (1988).
“What distinguishes Jean Gibson’s work, and deepens the paradox of the austere form and the explosive emotional content, is that her work is far more substantial and physically demanding than merely putting brush to canvas. She creates her sculptures from dense and hard materials, wrestling them into submission, pressing them out, waiting for them to set…”
“Monochrome Intensity: There is a marvellous paradox at the heart of the late Jean Gibson’s remarkable white wall-sculptures. Created from dense, hard materials – tetrion, fibreglass and herculite and painted a cool, even white – they should be the epitome of Modernist austerity. Instead they vibrate with a barely concealed energy and intensity of feeling as the taut white surfaces, more like stretched fabric or elastic than hard plaster, crack or are burst open by forms erupting from beneath. In this sense of intense emotion silently made visible in a monochrome world, her acknowledged spiritual father was the great Russian Constructivist Kasimir Malevich. A tough act to follow but Gibson, trained at the RCA in the early 50s, had the artistic strength of personality to take such ideas and make them her own. One of the ways was the significance for such work of landscape and natural forms: Breakout II (1984) for example, was part of a series of wall-pieces that derived from the changing patterns of shadows and brightness as wind moves across the ruffled surface of a pond. Her death at only 64 in 1991 robbed us of a wonderfully individual voice in full flow.”
Gibson was also an inspirational sculpture teacher. She gave lessons in her studio in Kensington.
Her protégés will always include her in any commentary on their trajectory as a sculptor. Each started their experience in clay in her studio between the late 1960s and 1980s.
“Jean changed my life. Through her teaching, I learned more than expressing ideas and feelings. She opened my eyes on the world around me, as if I was seeing it for the first time, and so she helped me to discover who I was. Above everything, she taught me always to be true to myself, to be sincere, humble, and at peace.”
“I started sculpture classes with Jean when I was twelve years old in 1969. At the first lesson I immediately understood that sculpture had to do with my own personal vision and ability to express it. Jean gave me the confidence as a rather shy teenager to break out and become myself. As a result of her early influence I became a professional sculptor after leaving The Royal College of Art Sculpture School. I have never looked back; sculpture is a world that I love. I count myself as extremely lucky to have known and to have been taught by Jean.”
“Jean was an amazingly inspiring teacher who pushed her students to the limits to help discover their potential. Her flamboyant personality had a great influence in keeping her lessons interesting. She encouraged me to take risks and experiment in different materials that reflect on my work today.”