Monday, 1 September 2014


 Elephant vehicle doors, 2 maps and vacuum cleaner,  3850 x 8200 x 4650 mm

But is it sculpture?

Well, yes it is. Bill Woodrow was one of small group of artists - including Anish Kapoor (see blogs 12, 13 and 15), Anthony Caro (blog 248) - who, in the 1970s, began to change British sculpture forever.

Historically speaking, animals are familiar subjects for painters and sculptors.  And the art form used here was once very popular: mount and frame an animal's head and fix it to the wall to celebrate a wild beast hunted and killed in some exotic location. Even a deer's antlers could evoke the thrill of the chase, and admiration for the killer's skill and audacity. There might even be a small brass plaque giving the grim details of how the deceased met its end. The intention  was to add a decorative note to the interior of a house as well as publicise a sense of privilege and power.

Woodrow's witty, poetic and pioneering approach to this tradition is very different. It allows him to create a wondrous sculpture from...well. from what? Rubbish? He comments on this particular work: 'The head, mounted colonial fashion on the wall, was constructed around an ironing board because of its triangular shape and strong frame. I used the ear shape of some old wall maps of Africa and South America... The fact that they are third world continents soon became the point of the work. I thought of jungles, deserts, shanty towns, natural forces, technology, tribes, revolutions.  This finally produced an elephant lifting an automatic weapon from a water hole, with the car doors I had found at a breaker''s yard forming its banks.'

Self-Portrait in the year 2089 - a sculptural Selfie, Photo Rebecca Reid, London Evening Telegraph

Although works like Elephant rely on discarded durables, the artist manipulates images and objects in such a way that we pick up his narrative and symbolic intentions without feeling that we are being scolded or corralled. Looking back he comments “I was dealing initially with materials. Those other ideas about the context you’re working in, statements about consumerism and stuff being thrown away, I discovered those through making the work,” 

Now, when climate change is a palpable reality and animals are being hunted to extinction, those sculptures, some made decades ago, look increasingly prescient.

Bill Woodrow talks about how Elephant evolved in the link below

 You can find this work in the BP WALK THROUGH BRITISH ART exhibition at Tate Britain  where, starting in 1545, rooms are dedicated to particular centuries/decades. 

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