The Rock Drill


The Rock Drill (original version, 1913–1914).

Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill (1913-15) was reconstructed in polyester resin by Ken Cook and Ann Christopher in 1973–74. It is the exemplary Vorticist art work. It shows a man on a tripod who is one with his machine. His drill is also his rigid proboscis, his hard, angled phallus. The tripod has weights (embossed Colman Bros Ltd Camborne England) on each leg, just above midpoint—which look like enlarged joints, or a bee’s pollen knee-pads (only available in black).

The rib cage of the figure is exactly like the twin cylinders on a motorbike. He is recognisably human, true, but the human body, with its curves and trim little bum, has been made-over to the angular machine: it is an armoured exoskeleton. The arms are like greaves. I thought of Seamus Heaney’s description of a motorbike lying in flowers and grass like an unseated knight. And I thought too of “Not My Best Side”, UA Fanthorpe’s marvellous poem about Uccello’s St George and the Dragon in the National Gallery. In it, Fanthorpe imagines the young girl being rather taken by the dragon’s equipment, when suddenly, irritatingly, “this boy [St George] turned up, wearing machinery”.

Thus Craig Raine on Jacob Epstein’s unforgettable sculpture. It’s astonishing to think that this piece in its various forms (lost, reworked, reconstructed) is now nearly a century old. Raine was writing about the forthcoming The Vorticists: Manifesto for the Modern World, an exhibition which will be opening at Tate Britain next month. Epstein’s truncated Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill (the full-figure version was destroyed) was one of the handful of sculptures which stood out for me when I first visited the Tate Gallery (as Tate Britain used to be) and it’s since become a piece I always enjoy seeing again. Epstein’s art was frequently controversial, his Oscar Wilde Memorial of 1911 was famously declared indecent, and The Rock Drill would have seem shockingly angular and aggressive to a British art world where aged academicians were still painting medieval fantasies or trying to sculpt like Praxiteles. To us today it looks unavoidably cybernetic even though the word “robot” didn’t arrive until 1920. Flickr has some views here of the reconstructed version which I’d hope is going to be on show at the Tate. In the meantime, there’s Anthony Gormley discussing the work on BBC Radio 3 (via iPlayer) which he regards as the first Modernist British sculpture, and a favourite work of art.

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The Kelpies


Maquettes from which the final works will be produced.

Given the choice between Thomas Heatherwick’s B of the Bang sculpture—a vast bundle of metal spikes situated near the City of Manchester Stadium—and Andy Scott’s proposal for The Kelpies, a pair of giant horse heads due to be erected in Falkirk, Scotland, I’d probably prefer the latter as a piece of colossal public art. Horse heads, from the Selene horse of the Parthenon onwards, are especially suited to statuesque representation and the horse has a venerable history as a symbol in the British countryside. It should be noted that between the two works, Andy Scott has the better location, Heatherwick’s giant piece is stuck in a redeveloped area near busy roads which makes its rusted spikes seem like leftovers from the stadium’s construction. He’s also been unfortunate in having created a work which began falling apart as soon as it was finished, with falling spikes causing a public hazard and a lengthy row with Manchester City Council which was only resolved this week.


Scott’s enormous horse heads will be standing alone and monumental in newly-created parkland, symbolically representing a gateway to Scotland as they flank and help operate a canal lock. Kelpies is the name for the “water-horses” of Scottish myth and Scott’s Kelpies will stand 35 metres high, taller than the Angel of the North. Unlike Anthony Gormley’s static monument they’ll move back and forth as the level of the locks rises and falls. Scott’s website has more pictures of the maquettes as well as photos of his other public works.

Update: ‘Bang’ sculpture to be taken down

The Kelpies at Falkirkonline
Meet the Kelpies, Scotland’s giant addition to the UK sculptural skyline

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The Underwater Sculpture Gallery


Vicissitudes, depth: 4.5 m.

The Underwater Sculpture Gallery in Grenada, West Indies is a project started in May 2006 by sculptor Jason Taylor, with the support of the Grenadian Ministry of Tourism and Culture. This is a unique artistic enterprise, celebrating Caribbean culture and highlighting environmental processes, such as coral reef re-generation.

An underwater gallery creates a whole new perspective on the world. Submerged objects are affected by different conditions both physical and emotional. Objects appear 25% larger and closer, colours are changed as light is absorbed differently by the water. The surface of the sea creates an ever-changing kaleidoscope of light, whilst its turbidity acts as a filter. The aquatic medium affords the viewer a multitude of angles and perspectives and thus transforms the traditional role of passive observer into an active process of discovery and engagement.

The ocean provides a setting imbued with mystery. Observers are invited to appreciate the works of art whilst questioning their circumstances and history. The viewer is immediately committed and involved to the environment and becomes part of the work itself. The sculptures will be an ever changing exhibition as nature colonizes the surface and the sea and tidal movement shapes the texture.

The uniqueness of the setting challenges traditional views of ourselves and our environment, transcending the boundaries separating land and water, and decompartmentalising social preconceptions. The constant flux of the marine environment on the sculptures mirrors the vicissitudes of our own lives.

Via Arthur.

Lucky Grenadians, the closest we get is Anthony Gormley‘s Another Place, a series of his usual figure sculptures on Crosby beach, Merseyside.


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