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Wild Thing

Monday, 25 January, 2010

London – The Royal Academy – The Sackler Wing of Galleries – 24 Oct 2009 – 24 Jan 2010.  10:30 – 17.30.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's Dancer

Wild Thing is an exhibition of sculptures, sketches and carvings by Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) and Eric Gill (1882-1940) in three connecting rooms, each room dedicated to one artist and each containing exactly thirty two exhibits.

Jacob EPSTEIN – Room 3

The works on display range in size from a deep stone tablet called Birth (c 25cm x 25cm x 15cm) to the monster of the Rock Drill (205cm x 141.5cm).  The range of media used includes busts in bronze and marble and sketches in pencil and blue crayon.

Torso in Metal from the ‘Rock Drill’ 1913-16 (c 50cm x 20cm x 40cm bronze)

The bronze sculpture is a black hunched over torso with a metal ribcage, the right arm at its side which ends where an elbow would be, the left arm in front which ends in a triangle instead of a hand, a long neck and a triangular face, reminiscent of a horse’s snout.  It has a hard masculine body armour and vulnerability with exposed abdominals and ribs.  The physicality of the torso suggests movement.  It looks like police and authority.  This being wears a visor which obscures its eyes; this prevents an observer from knowing what it is looking at.  The power of the gaze suggests superior eyesight which gives it power over observers.

The sculpture may have inspired modern conceptions of androids from Star Wars battle droids to cyborgs such as Robocop.  It has a child like vulnerability in the fusion of metal and flesh.  It is physically stronger than humans but with an internal fragility.  As cyborgs are a new race this makes them children comparatively speaking.  The torso in metal provokes a reaction of excitement because it is almost alien, almost animal.  This mixture of metal and organic looks like a soldier of action.  There is the smell of bullets and gunpowder accompanied by a taste of sulphur and grass.  It evokes the sound of marching armies with metallic boots on concrete – click click click.

Rock Drill 1913-1915  (205cm x 141.5cm. Reconstruction. Materials – polyester resin, metal and wood.

The Rock Drill is the bigger brother of Torso in Metal. It is a white, full bodied, armoured metal android standing astride a black tripod on top of a raised platform.  This makes the entire height approximately eleven feet tall and the structure towers over its fellow exhibits.  The Rock Drill looks like a director or a cameraman.  The right arm has a working hand clutching a lever.  The left arm ends where the wrist would be.  Its feet rest on jutting metal barrels which are inscribed with ‘Holman Bros Ltd Camborne England’.  The legs are like metal boots with hard triangular edges.  The feet have no toes.  Bone becomes metal becomes wood.

It is difficult to establish whether this being recently jump up onto the tripod or if it is a part of him.  There is a smell of fear and tangy salty sweat.  There is exhilaration in the contrast of metal and organic.  It looks futuristic and alive; it can almost be heard to whirr although it would be difficult to establish if the whirring was coming from the being or from the tripod.  There is a taste of fresh snow and a feel of hard sharp edges like a cold wooden bench.

Eric GILL – Room 1

The works on display are a mixture of sculptures and figures – black stone, bronze and brass, painted plaster cast, Portland stone, drawings, marble, bath stone.

Garden Statue – The Virgin 1911-1912 (c 5 foot tall. Material – Portland stone)

The virgin is curvy and slender with a small waist.  Standing upright she strides forward with her right foot.  Her arms reach up with her elbows parallel to her head, hands reaching crossed behind her head, her hair visibly flowing down her back.  She is wearing a skirt which sits just over her mons pubis.  She has a naked upper torso, a slightly rounded belly with an exposed innie navel – small pert breasts leading upwards to a collar bone but no neck – the neck and hair flow onto her arms, there is no dividing line.  Her nose is a stub and looks as though it has been worn away by the elements.  Her mouth is open, pouting, eyes closed, head back.  The Virgin is an ironic name as she looks more than ready to renounce her title and receive physical love.

Her lower body is enclosed and hidden, the lines of the tops of her legs and her vagina are not visible under the skirt, but she evokes sex.  There is a smell of early morning mist, lavender, bath salts, and a taste of dew.  The Virgin is almost too slender, which is out of proportion with her curves.  She gives a feeling of dreamlike relaxation, washing soft silky hair.  She is an English beauty.  Almost like a prayer, the hands cross behind her head.

Ecstasy 1910-1911  (c 5 foot tall, 21cm deep, 40cm wide. Material – Portland stone)

A rectangular stone slab contains a carving of copulation, their bodies protrude halfway out of the stone.  The woman is astride the man who is standing up, legs bent, he is deep inside her.  Only her face is visible and her eyes are closed.  His head is turned away, facing into the block of stone.  Her feet don’t touch the ground, toes dangling they rest on his.  She holds her arms protectively, one around his back, one round his neck.  The man’s arm is around her back but a hand reaches into her hair – unfortunately this part of the statue has worn away so it is unknown what her hair looks like.

The man and the woman are of a similar height and build.  She has a calm expression, eyes and mouth are closed, lips pressed against his hair.  A very pert nipple on her small but perfectly formed breast is exposed under his arm.  The male is muscular, taut and strong, thrusting upwards, inwards, pleasing her.  The sound of this gentle repetitive rhythm has been freeze framed in time.  Ecstasy tastes like lemonade, smells like freshly laundered sheets and is tender like the brush of fingertips upon a bare arm.

On one side of the stone block is the carving of a hand.  There is a large eye on an open palm. The thumb is at a right angle and the fingers are upright.  This symbol has an occult meaning.

Henri GAUDIER-BRZESKA – Room 2

The works on display range in size from a carved toothbrush called Ornament (15cm x 2cm x 1cm) to a massive Head of Ezra Pound marble sculpture (80cm x 45cm x 45cm).  The range of media used includes pen, pastel and ink drawings, marble, bronze, limestone, red Mansfield stone, plaster and Bath stone.

Crouching Fawn 1913   (c30cm wide x 12cm deep x 25cm tall. Material – Bath stone)

The fawn is lying down but the front right leg and head are raised.  The back legs are folded in, the right ear is folded back against its head and the left ear is alert.  The fawn looks peaceful and sleepy but ready to leap up and run away if under threat.  The fawn is graceful with smooth lines and a sweet doe like expression – it is young and looks feminine even if it is male.  Its eyes look as though they could be closed or open.

If this deer became a dance it would be a minuet.  It feels like sunshine on the back of the neck, warm and pleasant but will burn if left too long exposed.  There is peace amongst the trees and leaves of the wood and the element of danger.  A taste of almonds and the sound of a chattering brook.  The fawn is alone, what has happened to its mum.

(c) Wendy Thomson 2010

reviewed Sunday, 24 January 2010

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