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Steel and Earthenware
Framed (ref: 2875)
Signed with initials
Asymmetrical slate, 7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm.)
Provenance: The artists personal collection until 1972; the artist's housekeeper; thereafter by descent
Literature: John McKenzie, Liss Fine Art 2012, Cat. 11
John McKenzie was born in Glasgow in .1897. His father, also John, worked on the railways and his mother Isabella was in domestic service. John and his younger brother Allan, who was born in 1898, both fought in the First World War in the Royal Artillery and Gordon Highlanders respectively. Allan was killed in action on June 15th 1918.
After the war McKenzie continued to live in Glasgow but following the death of his father, he moved to Arbroath with his mother. By day he was a steward in the officers’ mess on H.M.S. Condor which was stationed at Arbroath as part of the Fleet Air Arm Training School. By night and at the weekends he indulged his passion for carving. Initially he tried his hand at wood carving but was disappointed with the results whereupon he switched to slate. As his mother didn't like the home being filled with slate dust he worked in a shed at the bottom of the garden. It was painstaking work and he rarely produced more than three or four plaques in a year. John McKenzie was a tall, quiet and deeply private man who invariably was to be seen with a pipe clamped between his teeth.
Despite exhibiting his slates at the R.S.A. Summer Exhibition, the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and the Arbroath Public Library, he had no interest in the commercial aspect of his work and it is not thought that he sold more than a handful of pieces in his lifetime. When he died, he left his estate to his housekeeper who had looked after him and his mother for many years.
His free standing asymmetrical carvings in deep relief are amongst his most original and sought after works.
The remarkable work of John McKenzie has only recently come to light.
Despite exhibiting his slates at the Royal Scottish Academy Summer
Exhibition, the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, and The Arbroath
Art Society, (and in two solo exhibitions at the Arbroath Public Library),
McKenzie sold no more than a handful of sculptures during his lifetime.
Initially McKenzie worked in wood, but disappointed with the
results, he turned to roof slates and other materials found to hand.
Mckenzie accentuated the depth of his shallow designs by polishing them
with linseed oil mixed with slate dust. The works have retained their
original presentation _ the wall plaques with a narrow oak moulding and
the free standing reliefs set onto angled stands with bronze coloured resin
set around the asymmetrical edges. He produced no more than three to
four reliefs a year, which amounted to less than one hundred and fifty
over his entire career. By day a charge-hand mess-man on HMS Condor
(and later a railwayman), the reclusive McKenzie indulged his passion for
carving by night and at the weekends.
Inspired by Antiquity and his own system of recurrent motifs, he found it
entirely natural to add into his compostions figures in contemporary dress.
A rich symbolism imbues his work, complemented by lyrical titles such as
‘Lightsome Interlude’, ‘Fruitful Tree’ or ‘Moon Shot’.
When McKenzie died, in 1972, his estate was left to his housekeeper. A
type written inventory lists 112 works of art. The twenty-seven works selected
for this catalogue include some of McKenzie’s finest designs.
To read full catalogue: /download/LFA_McKenzie_catalogue.pdf