The Rebel Art Centre

The rebellion had occurred at the Omega Workshops.

Lewis, Etchells, Hamilton and Wadsworth had all been employed at Roger Fry’s Omega Workshop from July 1913. Fry was trying to build a community of artisans who would be capable of supplying a hungry London customer-base with beautiful pieces of furniture, furnishings and objects d’art. For a few short months Fry’s light shone brightly as he marshalled the elite of the British avant-garde to supply an increasingly sophisticated middle class clientele with new and exciting pieces to adorn their halls and drawing rooms. This community was called the Omega Workshops, and was based at 33, Fitzroy Square, London.

But Lewis and his friends had become rather disillusioned there: they were working on enemy turf, in Bloomsbury. Additionally, they were dismayed to see that their work wasn’t always attributed to them as individuals; they were subsumed into a system which limited personal expression. It was not going to last.

The last straw was when Fry took on a contract for the Omega Workshops to decorate the Daily Mail’s Ideal Home Exhibition stand entitled ‘Post-Impressionist Room’. Spencer Gore understood that the room was to be decorated by Fry, Lewis and himself. However, Lewis was unaware he was to be a co-designer; he had been carrying out some work on a mantelpiece as directed by Fry. When Gore pointed out to Lewis what he had been told, Lewis realised he had been duped: Fry had taken the commission on personally without telling Lewis the whole story. Fry was obviously unaware that the Daily Mail agent had spoken to Gore independently.

This gave Lewis the chance he craved. He wrote a ‘Round Robin’; an open letter to Fry, the shareholders and the Press; it had been signed by Lewis, Etchells, Hamilton and Wadsworth. They left after a final row with Fry on the 5th October 1913.

Lewis had written about Omega, in the Round Robin:

This enterprise seemed to promise, in the opportunities afforded it by support from the most intellectual quarters, emancipation from the middle-man shark. But a new form of fish in the troubled waters of Art has been revealed in the meantime, the Pecksniff-shark, a timid but voracious journalistic monster, unscrupulous, smooth-tongued and, owing chiefly to its weakness, mischeivous.

Excerpt of the ‘Round Robin’ quoted in Vorticism & its Allies (Cork).

Wyndham Lewis and his artist friends were now cast adrift from the mainstream; they were very much the outlaws of the art establishment. Their putsch at the end of the Omega employment had confirmed this rebel status.

The Rebel Art Centre was the base for the British ‘rebels’. Wyndham Lewis wanted a headquarters that would act as a direct challenge to the Omega operation. He persuaded his friend Kate Lechmere to pay for a 6 month lease of a house in Great Ormond Street, London. Lewis used one room as a studio while the main rooms would allow him and other rebels to offer lectures and studies in rebel art to a paying public.

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