London show reveals UK sculpture's Wild Things

Fri Oct 30, 2009 12:34pm EDT
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By Paul Casciato

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - An enormous robotic figure astride a drill, a sculpture of entwined lovers and the head of American poet Ezra Pound tell the tale of how three artists transformed British sculpture at the start of the 20th century.

"Wild Thing" on at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until January 24th recounts the emergence of works by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, American Jacob Epstein and Briton Eric Gill, whose industrial, natural and sexually charged works changed the landscape of British sculpture from 1905-1915.

Royal Academy curator Adrian Locke told Reuters that the three artists looked away from the traditional working-in-plaster-casting-in-bronze approach to sculpture, preferring to work directly with stone and were inspired by native art and carvings in the British Museum.

"They came at it from a different angle," Locke said. "They wanted to return to the primitive way of working directly with stone."

Each artist is given his own room in the show.

Gaudier-Brzeska was only 23 when he was killed in World War One, cutting short an artistic campaign that so impressed Pound that he likened the young artist to "a well-made young wolf or some soft-moving, bright-eyed wild thing," the reference from which the show's name is taken.

Gaudier-Brzeska's works include an oversized sculpture of Pound's head, his evocative "Red Stone Dancer" and the exhilarating "Bird Swallowing Fish" -- which was completed in 1914, the year that the "war to end all wars" began.

Locke said the piece -- in which a bird and a fish appear locked in a battle where the fish cannot escape the beak of a bird that appears unable to swallow it -- could be interpreted in the light of the futile struggle of trench warfare.   Continued...