Report by Katie Lacayo
Wyndham Lewis was a man set on fire for individuality and revolution. His passion for the politics of art translated into his first (and arguably, his last) great literary magazine: Blast! Once WWI began, there was no more funding for the magazine, and it closed down, if rather successfully. It had made its political and social movement, and its time ended peacefully and with the desired damage done. Wyndham Lewis did not feel the same. He wanted to continue the revolt, even after the Great War ended, so he formed a literary and artistic circle called ‘Group X.’ This group mainly focused on the artistic movement of Vorticism, a style that takes the harsh lines and mechanical parts of humanity and merges them with cubism and futurism. As an artist, Lewis felt as though the Vorticist movement achieved the most by being “electric with a mastered and vivid vitality” (Chilvers). With his desire to bring this movement forward into the 1920s, as well as his own radical philosophies about art and the world, Lewis developed a new literary magazine entitled The Tyro, a politically charged, two-volume work that eventually met an unsuccessful end.
In 1919, Lewis began to work within the character of “the tyros,” a fierce denial of the traditional and a celebration of the human barbaric. “The tyros, in Lewis's account, are ‘immense novices’ who ‘brandish their appetites in their faces, lay bare their teeth in a valedictory, [and are] seen basking, themselves, in the sunshine of their own abominable nature’” (Karshan). Applying this ideology of what an artist can and should be, Lewis developed a set of essays and creative works that represented the tyros figures of the literary world (himself included). The Tyro was a large attempt to rally England out of traditional, one-dimensional thinking and instead, propel them towards deeper ingenuity, or a “new beginning.” Any thought that Lewis believed to be complacent, dull, or unoriginal, he would throw out immediately, trying to find the blatant tyros of his time. Those he deemed unworthy he would reject immediately, even rejecting the help of prolific authors who could have supported his magazine’s growth.
Many of these tyros were connected to Vorticism, which was Lewis’ true love. One of the first art pieces in The Tyro, Volume 1 is entitled “The Brombroosh,” a portrait of a man with jagged features. His eyes are pointed and harsh, nose almost satirically large, hat dark and rough, and body reduced to a mere gaudy shape. These kinds of features are partly what Vorticism aimed to represent: the grotesque and mechanized nature of humanity. While this may have successfully worked in avante garde before the war, Vorticism had lost its momentum by the time The Tyro was published. Too early to revive but too late to push forward, the magazine died with the movement. Artists and poets went on to various other projects, but Lewis refused to let Vorticism go, even as his art adjusted slightly over time.
The most important reason for mentioning the idea of the tyro and Vorticism is that these two ideologies lead to the general failure of his magazine The Tyro. Because of Lewis’ radically stubborn ideas, which eventually broke many of his social ties, he was unable to fund The Tyro, barely making good on his promise in the first issue for a reappearing second volume. By the 1920s, Lewis had lost Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot as supporting pillars for his work in the revolution of art. Pound and Eliot both felt that Lewis was dwelling too much on the past and on his own personal work, instead of aiming to find other movements and artistic happenings within England. While Wyndham Lewis went on to make another magazine, publish artwork, and become notorious for his fascist beliefs, The Tyro was abandoned after two volumes, serving as a reminder that audience is everything in the small literary magazine.
Chilvers, Ian. The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (5 ed.). Oxford University Press: 2015.
Karshan, Thomas. “Apes, Tyros, and Humans: Wyndham Lewis's Portraits.” Modernism/Modernity, vol. 16, iss. 2, 2009.
Klein, Scott W. “The Tyro: An Introduction.” The Modernist Journals Project. http://modjourn.org accessed May 2019.
Sherwin, Skye. “Wyndham Lewis’s TS Eliot: a jigsaw puzzle of rebellion and radicalism.” The Guardian. 7 July 2017.