Friday, 11 July 2014


at the PANGOLIN GALLERY until August 23rd

Cruise Missile, Painted wood for bronze, 2011, photo Steve Russell.

How can an artist make work about war?

 'The joy of sculpture is ambiguity' says Stevc Hurst. 'War' and 'Toys' are not words you would expect in the same sentence. They set up a powerful tension which runs though this whole exhibition. The vehicle is colourful, sturdy, the sort of toy which might pass from generation to generation. But stare into the face of the missile monster and you see a huge mouth seeking whom it may devour. It looks as if those teeth have had plenty of practice. The body is deceptively curvy, almost cuddly except for sharp wings, but the tail flails out into a three point trident such as Dante might have had in mind when describing the harrowing of hell.

Steve Hurst, Iraq Diaries, pen on paper, 35 x 29.5cm
 Iraq Diaries is equally double-tongued, for at one level it is  a witty comic strip. The contrast in both pieces is between playfulness and horror. They permit no complacency.

Steve Hurst, sculptor and war historian, says he found his response to war through parable. Cafe-museums around the battlefields of Ypres were extraordinary enterprises. They displayed a bizarre mixture of horrific relics covered in mud and rust, together with coloured kitsch objects: plastic flowers, garden gnomes, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and even a large painted machine dispensing sweets in the shape of skeletons. A mile or so from the Western Front - where farmers still dig up shattered steel helmets, reminders of what power does to human flesh - you can buy a chocolate model of the Menin Gate Memorial.  

Hurst's works are wide-reaching. They refer to  specific conflicts over many years, from the Somme and Ypres to Northern Ireland; from the First World War to Iraq and Afghanistan. And he chooses to work with a remarkable range of materials, including bronze, aluminium and steel, wood, paint and found objects.

The next blog will show how he interrogates memory, remembrance and in particular the notion of an 'official history'. As we approach the centenary, his work is as much a critique of how we deal with the after-effects of war  as of war itself.

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