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Arthur Dooley: his place in post-war British art history

Gaunt, Robert Phillip (2014) Arthur Dooley: his place in post-war British art history. Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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Little has been written about the Liverpool sculptor Arthur Dooley. He was popular with the Northern working class audience of the 1960s and 70s, but is largely absent from art history. In this thesis I have drawn upon evidence from the Arthur Dooley Archive at Liverpool John Moores University, and surviving television broadcasts, to write this first history of Dooley and his important ecclesiastical sculptures. In Chapter 1, I show the influences of Catholicism and Communism on his major work the Stations of the Cross (1962-64). I find new evidence that connects him with the 1960s British Catholic Left, who gathered around Terry Eagleton and the Slant group. These influences are seen in the context of developments in the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council and Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963). Chapter 2 traces the history of the Merseyside Worker Artists Association (MWAA) which Dooley set up and led. I compare its aims and achievements with those of the Ashington Group and the Artists International Association. Using Jacques Rancière’s idea of the ‘distribution of the sensible,’ I consider the effectiveness of the MWAA’s strategies to contest discrimination against worker artists. Chapter 3 looks more closely at Dooley’s political values in order to begin to situate him within the post-war British Social Realist movement. Connections are made with the ‘geometry of fear’ group by way of Reg Butler’s influence on Dooley, and David Hulks’ new interpretations of Herbert Read’s writing in this area. Tracing connections between Dooley’s pronouncements on his work and texts by Marxist art historians and critics, I conclude that there is evidence that Dooley’s work fits John Berger’s critical criteria for Social Realism, and even for Socialist Realism. I set this history in the wider contexts of recent renewed interest in Northern Social Realism and, more widely, the Catholic Church’s current return to a concern for social justice.

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