I love 1913

An amazing exhibition at the Royal Academy in London: Wild Thing. This collates the work of three sculptors working in London at the beginning of the 20th century: Englishman Eric Gill, Frenchman Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and American Jacob Epstein, whose striking, prescient bust Rock Drill had piqued our interest at Tate Modern’s recent Futurism show. The original, full-length version of Rock Drill is the defining image of Wild Thing, or at least a 1970s reconstruction of the 1915 original, a nightmarish, baboon-like robot who seems to be a part of the actual quarry drill he mounts – and of course predates the design of various robots in 20th and 21st century sci-fi, including the Battlestar Galactica Centurian. This apparition dominates the third room of the exhibition – each artists gets a room – but there is much stimulus to be had from the smaller pieces. (I must admit, I usually gravitate towards 2D art exhibitions, but seeing one that was all 3D was superb.) I’ve long admired the work of Gill, thanks to his carvings that adorn Broadcasting House, but it was good to see Ecstasy, finished in 1910 and carved out of his favourite Portland Stone, and the entirely charming Golden Calf. Of the three, Gaudier-Brzeska was the least known to me, but what striking abstracts he produced from animal and bird forms – Birds Erect, 1914, is a fantastic extrapolation in limestone. His Red Stone Dancer, carved from Red Mansfield stone but looking almost wooden, is a key work in the middle room, only 60cm high but with boldly abstacted breasts (one circular, one oblong) and a triangle for a face. You have to admire his huge portrait of Ezra Pound, too (Pound called Gaudier-Brzeska a “wild thing”), and Bird Swallowing A Fish, whose titanic struggle is said to have presaged the mechanised stalemate of World War One, in whose trenches the artist perished, aged just 23. Epstein was no critics’ darling before the war; indeed, they called Rock Drill “indescribably revolting”, and his frank nudes with their dangling bits shocked polite society, most notably by the two English ladies who used umbrellas to knock the cock off the angel on The Tomb Of Oscar Wilde (a monument I am happy to say I have seen in situ in Pere Lachaise – see: below – where is it smothered in lipstick kisses – a footnote you hope Epstein would have enjoyed). The big, ahead-of-its-time Centurion overshadows the whole room, but you’d be mad to overlook the series of gorgeous, plump copulating doves, even though whoever decided to make the exhibition’s postcards did. Incidentally, they were also selling a reprint of the Vorticist manifesto, BLAST, in the shop (as featured in the Futurism exhibition). I succumbed. I love going round art exhibitions, but it would seem wrong to come away without stuff. (By the way, I haven’t seen the Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy yet, but it was intriguing to hear his paint-cannon going off somewhere else in the building. It’s calling me, I tell you.)


12 thoughts on “I love 1913

  1. Sounds like fascinating show, these people were truly futurists as they had none of the reference points we see later. In fact I am quite certain that car design, film design were specifically influenced by some of the work, and you could say, still is, in the context of sci fi as you mention. Very good Andrew, and not one plug for you and Richard's commercial ventures (tee hee)

  2. This sounds like a super exhibition, which has also inspired me to pay another visit to the Walsall Art Gallery, which contains a major collection of Epstein's work. That Rock Drill fellow is something else. (It is perhaps more accurate to describe Epstein as American-born, as he became a British citizen in 1907, producing the majority of his work in London.)

  3. Hi Andrew. Slightly going off topic but staying with culture have you seen Miranda Hart's new sitcom "Miranda" on BBC 2? It's very good it has a good cast including Sarah Hadland, Patrica Hodge, & Tom Ellis. Sally Phillips & Katy Wix,who played Tim's girlfriend Daisy appeared in the first episode.

  4. Andrew, thanks for the 'heads up' of this event, I will certainly be going now.I really do admire Gill also, in fact recently I commissioned a head stone for my grandmother's grave and managed to find a carver who after three generations of apprenticeships went directly to Gill. A small thing I know, but it makes me smile to think that perhaps there is still a bit of Gill out there in a small church in West Berkshire marking the spot of one of my favourite persons I have ever known, albeit by proxy.the only apprentice Gill ever took on actually designed/carved the design that was then set in bronze of the gates at the british library and also I believe did an inscription in the building (I have never been inside so do not know).On another unrelated story about Sculptors, last year I visited the Rodin museum in Paris and wandered the Gardens. All the statues in the garden were being photographed with the hundreds of tourists standing around/on/under them, except for a couple of ignored not insignificant pieces at the end of the garden. My American colleague who knew no different, was curious as I clapped with glee and ran over to the completely ignored Thomas Moore sculptures. I tried to explain who he was and why it was weird he was being ignored (at least from my point of view).Who knew that carved stone could bring such emotion and happiness.I urge anyone with even the slightest curiosity to see this stuff!

  5. That pic looks like one of the weedy robots in Star Wars – The Clone Wars.I'm sure one of the geeks that frequent this blog will be able to actually name that robot.

  6. Epstein was quite the Hirst of his day (though certainly a better artist). Check out his relief carvings (1908) on the BMA building on the Strand (now Zimbabwe House). You can see where the LCC in 1935 climbed up on scaffolding to hack away the features of the sculptures that the Evening Standard had called “A form of statuary which no careful father would wish his daughter, or no discriminating young man, his fiancée, to see". And then there's the 'Hyde Park Atrocity' – his 1925 sculpture of Rima – and the sculptures at TFL HQ on Broadway. He also made in the 50's the skating Jan Smuts in Parliament Sq. Interestingly a lot of the abrobrium leveled at Epstein (for his depiction of the sculptured form as sexual) was orchastrated by the Mail, Standard and Express. Plus ca change..etc…etc..

  7. On a seperate note there's a pretty interesting film from Ken Russell about Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, starring amongst others a young Helen Mirren. It's based on the letters sent between Gaudier-Brzeska and his wife and called… (quick pause for a wiki)'Savage Messiah'. Worth watching.

  8. This picture of course shows the "whole" Rock Drill.It's definitely quite a sexually charged image.Most recent thing that it brings to mind are those brilliant"Testuo" I & II ("Iron Man")movies…Epstein sadly smashed "Rock Drill" after a welter of criticism. Public "outrage" also saw the "big-boobed" carvings that featured on the BMA H.Q in the Strand "toned down",as was "Jacob and the Angel" at The Tate.This,as recalled recently by Anthony Gormely,in a tribute to Epstein. He was definitely ground-breaking. He combined his "avant-garde" stuff,with "straight-forward" portraiture..sounds like my sort of bloke…This just in… "Mitfords alert" ,just listening to the Omnibus edition of John Tusa's "1989",it included a clip of Lady Mosley On "Desert Island Discs"..declaring her love and admiration,(to Sue lawley),for Adolf,with his "lovely hair" etc.Amazing that this went to air..today's edition,by contrast was with Morrissey! (i dunno tho,another famous vegetarian)Your week at 6music was much appreciated…for instance,i cant imagine a better handling of the appearance by Vic and Bob.Cheers…

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