Favourite Sculptures: Rock Drill by Jacob Epstein

Number 1

Rock Drill by Jacob Epstein 1880-1959

Constructed between 1913 and 1915

This sculpture still astounds me, it's so utterly different from virtually all other sculpture from the period. I think it is beautiful with it's elegant lines but at the same time it depicts an ugliness that I associate with war. The humanoid figure strides the actual rock drill like a sentinel on horseback, the angular head with its visor scanning the ground in search of something, possibly me or you. It's very imposing and threatening.  

During it's construction the First World War began but also War of the Worlds, the science fiction novel by English author HG Wells first appeared in serial form in 1897. To me Epstein was referencing both this fictional and the real war in the same work with great success.

The rock drill you see in the picture was the genuine article of the 'machine age' with the American manufacturers number printed on the side, and was in effect a 'readymade' and contemporaneous with Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel. With the added figure on top this piece towered to over three meters tall.

On close inspection one can see a small amorphous shape revealed within the central torso of the figure. Was this suggestive of a new race born to take over from the existing one? Below Epstein gives his own account of the work.......

Writing about the piece in his autobiography he said: “I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconced. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein’s monster we have made ourselves into…”
No mention of War of the Worlds there but to me the machine-like robot with long legs and extensions shows strong links with images depicting HG Wells's creation.

Epstein was born in America but became a British Citizen in 1911 after a period spent in Europe. He was not a Vorticist but was closely linked with the movement. Wyndham Lewis the leader of this movement remarked, 'one of the best things he [Epstein] has done. The nerve-like figure perched on the machinery, with its straining to one purpose, is a vivid illustration of the greatest function of life.'

Sadly Epstein dismantled this work, sold the drill and truncated the figure showing a new Torso in Metal in 1916.  This piece can now be seen at Tate Britain.  It's still great but seems only to have half the power of the original, quite literally.

Grayson Perry- Reith Lecture No.1: Democracy Has Bad Taste

I know Grayson Perry isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I have to say, I think he's a very good speaker. I enjoyed all four of these Reith lectures back in 2013 and I've just listened to the first one again, so if you didn't catch them here's the first one. He talks very knowingly about Contemporary Art with much wit. The lecture is about half an hour long followed by questions.


Gallery for Russian Arts & Design: Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain

Just around the back of Oxford Street, Little Portland Street to be precise, is a small gallery called GRAD. If you take a trip there or find yourself in this area before 24th August 2014 you can treat yourself to a small confection of  design objects from Russia with some history thrown in; just in case you're getting rusty.  The exhibition is called Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain.

You'll experience the changing face of Russian Design within a historical context from the 1917 revolution to perestroika. Loaned pieces are from The Moscow Design Museum and AMO-ZIL

There's quite a few galleries popping up around the back of Oxford Street where there were once wholesalers from the fashion industry...what does this mean?..Please discuss.

It's free to get in so you can spend the money on tea and cakes; that's what we did anyway.

3-4a Little Portland Street, London

Here's a selection of photographs taken by my assistant...Robin.

Secretarial Telephone with Rotary Dial and Keypad (date unknown)

'Molniya' (Lightning) Table Clock 1966

Saturn vacuum cleaner 1967

The Vortographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn

As you may have seen I've posted a photograph of Wyndham Lewis on this blog.  He was the dynamic leader of the Vorticist movement in Britain that commenced in the summer of 1914. Due to my interest in him I have discovered something I didn't know existed: Vortographs. These were the photographs taken by Alvin Langdon Coburn, who was connected with the movement. I only discovered these recently so I know little about them or him but it's great to find something which is new to me, so I thought I would put a few examples here.  He was born in Boston, Massachusetts and was an amateur photographer until he met with Edward Steichen.  In 1903 he joined with Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier and Clarence White in forming the Photo-Secession group.

Around 1904 he came to London and subsequently met with the Vorticists. This group included Percy Wyndham Lewis, Helen Saunders, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Jessica Dismorr, Charles Nevinson, Dorothy Shakespear and William Roberts.

Gelatin silver print from 1917

During this time he began experimenting with photographs of crystals, using a triangular mirror called a Vortoscope. This experimentation resulted in images of angular forms which echo the Vorticist aesthetic of abstract angles and planes. They were the first completely abstract photographs ever taken. Through this work he pioneered non-objective photography, however, he didn't stay with the technique for very long.

The Eagle 1917
Gelatin silver print

Gelatin silver print from 1917

Here's an early self-portrait of him from 1905 looking a bit moody.

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Collage: La Poupée

La Poupée
A3 Collage
Vintage text, gouache, graphite and crayon on paper

Wyndham Lewis/John Heartfield

The reason for this post is to share photographs that I particularly like of certain artists. I've added just one of their creations as an example of their work.

Wyndham Lewis 1882 - 1957  English Painter and author.
Vorticist and editor of Blast Magazine and others.

Mr Lewis has got plenty attitude, that's for sure. In his face, there's a trace of a smile but also aggression, the hair a little unruly but at the same time groomed, the neat bow in his neck counterbalanced by the casual cigarette. He looks vicious, rakish, hard, challenging, compelling and possibly a bit of a joker. I'm a bit obsessed with him at the moment. The painting is called Timon of Athens (1923)

John Heartfield 1891 - 1968)   German Dada Artist and designer.
I love this photo for revealing such strong feeling.
John Heartfield used art as a political weapon. He was known for his political photomontages containing anti-Nazi and anti-fascist statements he also designed book jackets and stage sets. 

Collage: River God

Oil, photocopy, graphite and original drawing on canvas.

Quick Summery of Exhibitions

I've compiled a quick summery of the exhibitions I've been to over the past year or so.  Some occur before I started the blog, some of these are still on and so in no particular order................

Sigmar Polke - Alibis: 1963 - 2010 at Tate Modern... on until 8 February 2015
Nothing is out of bounds for Sigmar. To see his work is to realise just how conservative we can be in our appreciation and in our making of art. His work is really inspiring, especially in his use of materials. All kinds the surfaces are up for grabs, even actual material i.e. fabric instead of canvas. Of course there is a lot more going on in his work. Most of all I loved his strong sense of humour, but do be careful, this humour is often a veneer to a much deeper message.
Fantastic, and going back for seconds!

George Grosz - The Big No at Highgate Gallery - (Hayward Gallery touring exhibition) On until 9 November 2014.
Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution, 11 South Grove, London N6.
Such and eye-opener into the chaos of 20s Berlin in this show of two portfolios of Grosz's work; 'Ecce Homo' ('Behold the Man'), 1923 and 'Hintergrund' (Background), 1928. This free exhibition lets you get up close and personal to Grosz's drawings of a collapsing society and all that goes with it. It's funny, it's dark, it's dirty, it's crazy and vice ridden...but what a draughtsman! 

Kasimir Malevich - Tate Modern.  A Revolutionary of Russian Art. On until 26 October 2014. This is the first ever retrospective of his work in the UK so it's definitely worth a visit if you're into Suprematism as I am. 

Radical Geometry - The Royal Academy.  Modern Art from South America. On until 28 September 2014. Progressive geometric art spanning a fifty year period, starting in the 1930's.
I enjoyed it and I've written a piece about it, which you can read here.

Jake and Dinos Chapman - Serpentine Gallery.
Nihilistic and very amusing.

Joseph Albers - Waddington Custot Gallery
Very Beautiful, especially on close inspection. See my post on this.

Richard Hamilton - Tate Modern.
Impressive body of work, preferred the earlier pieces though.

"Uproar!" The first 50 years of the London Group (1913-1963) - Ben Uri Galley.
 Early British Modernism............... subtly anarchic.

The Bride and the Bachelors - The Barbican.
Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauchenberg and Johns.
Marcel Duchamp's American legacy resulting in a seismic shift in the direction of art in the 1950's and '60s.
Very good,  I could do with seeing it again as there was quite a lot to take in.

Pop Art Design - The Barbican.
Exploring ideas going back and forth between artists and designers in the Pop age. Great to see women artists represented such as Pauline Boty, Judy Chicago and Jann Haworth. (See below)
Big and colourful pieces as you would expect.

Musee d'art Modern, Nice. (France)
Exploring the relationship between New European Realism and the American tendency towards the Art of Assembling and Pop Art.
Great to see work by Niki de Saint Phalle, especially one piece that reminded me of the Chapman Brothers' work.  I wondered if they had been influenced by her, (see close-up of painting below and above)......... great to see work by Yves Klein too.

Picasso Museum, Antibes (France)
Lovely location right on the sea front, excellent holiday and art appreciation-location combo.

Renoir's House, Cagnes-sur-Mer (France)
Very pretty but found the work there quite boring, expected more.

Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence (France)
Really impressive building and grounds, quite a lot of kinetic sculpture.  Lots of Miro, Giacometti, Calder etc. Don't go to the South of France without visiting this place, it's wonderful.  The actual village of St Paul de Vence is loaded with artists studios and very lovely but unfortunately there is quite a lot of poor quality work on display there, probably due to tourism.

Hannah Hoch - Whitechapel Galley
Large exhibition, very inspirational female Dada collage artist, working in the Weimar republic during the war........ I must get the scissors out more often!

Russian Avant Garde (1910-1932) - St Petersburg Gallery (Closes 20 September 2014)
Wonderful examples, a bit rough round the edges, which is something I love about some of these works, they're not too clean-cut. I may go back for seconds before it closes.

The Show Is Over - The Gagosian, Britannia Street, London.
Exhibition about abstraction and the end of painting, often proposed but never concluded....thankfully!
I found this sequence by Robert Ryman very inspiring.  These pieces are on aluminium with vinyl polymer acrylic paint.  He said "I am not a picture painter. I work with real light and space." 

Schwitters in Britain - Tate Britain
Exhibition showing the later work of Kurt Schwitters, covering the time he spent in Britain as a refugee after fleeing Germany where his work was condemned as degenerate by the German Nazi government.  He was a significant figure in European Dadaism and invented the Merz concept which deals with the equality of materials for making art.  I have decided to show one of his sculptures here as I remember being particularly taken with them.

Claude Cahun (born Lucy Shwob 1894 - 1954)

French Artist, Photographer and Writer.

There are so many photographs of Claude Cahun that it's difficult to make a choice.  I've decided on this one, taken around 1930. This is probably one of the most popular images of her; it's timeless in its modernism, and I think this is its lasting appeal. She looks out at us, not at herself in the mirror, as if the mirror is rejecting the ambiguity of the subject and echoing the societal rejection of the time. When I look at this image I'm reminded of so many Pop stars that have played with androgyny such as Bowie, Gaga and Madonna. It's a useful tool to attract attention, but at the time that this photograph was taken it was a much bigger deal to swap gender.  Cahun, a Surrealist, was even a bit much for André Breton apparently, which gives us some idea of how weird it was to not want to wear the womanly mask that was expected of all females. She will, I think, remain a lasting icon for all people, especially the young, who feel that they do not fit into the gender norms of their particular era.