Fullard, George (1923–1973), sculptor, was born on 15 September 1923 at 2 Court 1 Hazel Road, Darnall, Sheffield, the youngest of the five children of George Fullard (1886–1952), a coalminer, and his wife, Henrietta Matthias (1886–1953). His early social environment considerably influenced the drawings and sculpture he produced in later life. Notably, he acknowledged this when, remarking that his growing up had been 'like living in a sculpture', he referred to the labyrinthine backyards of Darnall (Spencer). Communist politics and trade union militancy marked his early family life. In the late 1930s his father became known locally as a socialist playwright after he had been blacklisted for organizing a strike of pit deputies. Fullard's talent for drawing earned him a scholarship to the Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts, which he attended from 1937 to 1942. His student drawings of ordinary people reveal an early preoccupation with everyday life on the streets of the city. In 1942 he enlisted as a trooper in the 17/21st lancers and served in north Africa and Italy. In the final battle for Montecassino on 19 May 1944 he received severe injuries to his head, chest, and shoulder. Despite being given little hope of surviving, he made a remarkably rapid recovery.
From 1945 to 1947 Fullard studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art, in Ambleside, Westmorland, and in London, and proved to be an exceptionally gifted modeller. On graduation he was awarded a three-month travel scholarship which he spent in Paris with his wife, Irena O'Connor Corcoran (b. 1923), an actress, whom he had married on 1 July 1946. Until 1950 they lived in a rambling house at 44 Pembroke Road, West Kensington, London, which they shared with various Royal College graduates. In these early years Fullard undertook various commissions, including one for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Although in 1950 he and his wife moved to 11 Stanley Studios, Park Walk, Chelsea, he also shared a studio with Derrick Greaves at Fawcett Yard, a dilapidated mews near Fulham Road. In the 1950s his drawings and modelled figures and heads reflected his continuing interest in ordinary humanity. They attracted the attention of John Berger, the Marxist art critic of the New Statesman, who, by 1958, regarded him as Britain's best young contemporary sculptor. Fullard's first major showing of sculpture was in the 1957 ‘Looking at people’ exhibition which toured to Moscow, despite the unfavourable cold war atmosphere. With the financial stability provided by part-time teaching at St Albans School of Art, he devoted more energy to developing and showing his sculpture: his large Running Woman (bronze, 1957, Sheffield city centre) won a junior prize at the first John Moores exhibition in Liverpool.
In 1959 Fullard began to work with the idiom of ‘assemblage’. Initially he meticulously assembled figures from bits of old wooden furniture and other ‘junk’ which he had accumulated. They displayed a distinct cubist influence but also reflected earlier concerns. The faceted profile of Woman (wood, 1959, Arts Council of Great Britain) has affinities with the heads of the modelled figures he made in the 1950s. However, the series of assemblages concerned with the subject of war, made from 1961 to 1964, are generally considered to be his most inventive and important work. Fullard conjured with paradoxical ideas and incongruous objects to bring out the essentially absurd nature of his subject. His work also had a personal element, as he often remarked that he was 'sculpting an autobiography' (Whiteley, George Fullard, 6). Death or Glory (1963–4, Tate collection) ironizes the noble motto of Fullard's own regiment; War Game (ciment fondu, 1962, Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle upon Tyne; version in bronze) resembles the rubble at Montecassino. In these works he also amalgamated the imagery and rhetoric of the First World War, for he felt profoundly affected by the grief of his parents' generation. Above all, a key thematic concern was the loss and recovery of ‘innocence’, and his writings and many of his works allude, directly and indirectly, to infancy and games. In 1966 he made a seemingly radical departure, as his final group of sculptures were mainly concerned with the sea. Constructed from found objects and painted flat metal shapes, they have a picture-book quality. With sinking steamers and sailing-boats, their simplicity is deceptive. Again, Fullard's childlike vision is apparent. In particular, the folded paper helmet which featured in a number of his war assemblages became emblematic, as he transformed it into a hat, a boat, and, later in Dream Day (1970–71, City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery), a line of aeroplanes.
Fastidious about his appearance, Fullard had an elegance unmarred by his war injuries (which left scars to his forehead and poor mobility in his left arm). A raconteur who enjoyed singing and dancing, he was an inspirational teacher and a man of political conviction with no time for élitism. He believed passionately that the artist needed a personal vision which could only be gained from experience of life. George Fullard died on 25 December 1973 in St Stephen's Hospital, Chelsea, after a second heart attack; he was cremated at Golders Green, London. Although he had shown in major exhibitions of contemporary sculpture in the 1960s, had been head of sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art from 1963, and was made an ARA in 1973, his sculpture was not fully appreciated in his lifetime. His work had an idiosyncratic comic edge which was not in keeping with contemporary trends for formalism and abstraction in sculpture. His memorial exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1974 was a major critical success, and since then his contribution to post-war art has been considerably recognized, with important retrospective shows in Wakefield, Sheffield, and Cambridge in the 1990s.