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Front Cover Rush Hour William Roberts 1971 

 

William Roberts (1895-1980) was a reclusive, public-spirited modern artist, a Londoner, an urban, secular, sane Stanley Spencer. He was part of the 1914 British avant-garde movement, Vorticism, with its punchy, choppy, geometric manner. His best-known work today is probably The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel " a memorial image, painted almost 50 years later. In the interval, Roberts's style had changed somewhat. He favoured solid but friendly figures, and positive, celebratory images of everyday life. He may be the only modernist to have painted the Changing of the Guard and a London double-decker bus.

He left school aged fourteen and started an apprenticeship in poster design whilst attending evening classes at St Martin's School of Art. The following year he won a scholarship to the Slade, where he met Edward Wadsworth and Christopher Nevinson. Together they joined the Vorticists, an avant-garde group formed in 1914. Like many Vorticists, Roberts was an Official War Artist during the First World War. The experience had a profound effect on their celebrated view of the 'modern world'. The group disbanded and Roberts adopted a more representational approach. In a distinctive and enduring style, he recorded the social development of the working class. Dynamic and densely populated, his scenes of everyday life were always coolly contained within a balanced composition. 

Roberts was often described as reclusive, and he was very wary about interviewers especially after an Observer journalist whom he did speak to produced an article that Roberts felt was concerned more with his rather Spartan lifestyle than with his work. 'What kind of art critic is this, who sets out to criticise my pictures, but criticises my gas stove and kitchen table instead?' he asked.  One admirer of his work has told how she saw him getting on to a number 74 bus and 'Fascinated to gain a sighting of the octogenarian recluse, she followed him to the top deck. Aided by "the chutzpah of youthful inexperience", she respectfully asked him if she were addressing Mr. William Roberts. After what felt like an interminable pause, and with his gaze defiantly averted, he replied: "I really do not know."