Concrete

Sculpture on Great West Road, October 2017.

If you have been stuck in traffic driving into London from the M4 you may have noticed this sculpture jammed, like you, between the dual carriageway and a yew hedge. It sits on a brick plinth, untitled and with no indication of who was responsible for this piece of civic art.

I wonder if it is a copy of some famous sculpture? Or is it an inspiration? Whatever it is, it is a monumental failure. It is cast in concrete which gives the piece a coarseness that my photograph does not fully convey. I cannot believe that it was intended for this site. I think it turned out so badly that it has been hidden here as concrete has no scrap value.

Gulliver by Jimmy Boyle.

Here is another concrete sculpture, Gulliver the Gentle Giant. When it was created in 1976 it was supposedly the biggest concrete sculpture in the world. It was in Craigmillar, an Edinburgh suburb, but has been demolished. Frankly it does not persuade me that concrete is a suitable medium for sculpture.

The sculptor’s name may ring a bell: Jimmy Boyle. He created this concrete blob, improbably, while serving a fifteen year sentence in Barlinnie Prison for murdering a gangland rival. He was released in 1982, when John Mortimer called on him for breakfast and to write a profile for The Sunday Times. Hot croissants and black coffee, cheese with herbs in it, and grapes and tangerines; an eclectic menu, especially for a Glasgow murderer. Mortimer allows Jimmy to put his case, protesting his innocence and telling of being beaten up by the prison wardens but takes it with a pinch of salt.

2 thoughts on “Concrete”

  1. You may be surprised to know that the cast concrete ‘Draped Woman’ sculpture by Czech Karel Vogel (1897-1961) c1959, is Grade II listed. He arrived in England in 1938. Some of his work was displayed at the Festival of Britain. He taught at Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts, becoming principal of the sculpture school.
    Deemed of artistic interest, its listing is described by Historic England as an ‘ambitious figure sculpture whose cantilevered composition challenges the stability and equilibrium of the classical tradition’.

    A half-size model was shown in a 1962 retrospective exhibition under the title ‘God’s Speed’. It was reported in the journal ‘Studio’ that: ‘Vogel’s intention was to create a figure that would link the church and square in neo-classical calm with the swiftness of the fast modern world. It is nearly twice life size and unites traditional forms fitting the surroundings with the dynamic of modern traffic. The Sculpture expresses his intention in a floating movement, repeating the curve of the road and taking up the slope of the opposite subway’. This later work is more roughly moulded and according to some, more expressive.

    I quite like its coarse brutalism but would be more interested to see the half-size model, whereabouts unknown.

    1. Well done for identifying the sculpture and its provenance. It seems peculiar that the plinth has nothing to indicate the sculptor or the title. Despite Vogel’s intentions I maintain that it is poorly sited. Also I read a comment last month that the concrete needs repairing. I noticed that it had been cast in two sections and the join is opening up.

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