In this month’s column, Suffolk-based artist, educator and presenter Grace Adam is thinking about peace – and appreciating the thoughtful work of three artists
This month, I thought I would share with you three artist’s responses to the violence of war. I know that doesn’t sound uplifting, but actually they are. Jacob Epstein, Cornelia Parker and Pablo Picasso have crafted three thoughtful, maybe even optimistic or at least hopeful reactions to our ongoing capacity for cruelty.
Jacob Epstein – Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill, 1913–15
‘Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein’s monster we have made ourselves into.’
Jacob Epstein 1940
Moving from New York to London in 1905, Epstein became a naturalised British citizen six years later. He belonged to the Vorticists, whose members were influenced by Cubism and enamoured of a dynamic new machine age. The First World War opened his eyes and ended the movement. Epstein’s original sculpture consisted of a plaster figure placed on a real industrial rock drill to symbolise the exciting new mechanised century. ‘I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively.’ Look closely at the abdomen. Remember the film Alien?
After exhibiting Rock Drill in 1915, he removed the drill itself from the sculpture as well as the body from the waist down. What remained was then cast in bronze, creating perhaps a victim rather than killer, although that threatening helmet leaves room for doubt.
Cornelia Parker – Bullet Drawing, 2010
Cornelia Parker is an artist who wants us to reassess the familiar; garden sheds, household objects, musical instruments…guns. She believes that objects can be transformed and still hold the memory of their former function. From large scale installations to seemingly quiet drawings, she exercises what she calls ‘cartoon violence’ on these found objects. Blowing them up and steamrollering them into new forms with former lives, and new associations, she seeks to ‘resurrect things that have been killed off’.
In her Bullet Drawings, the artist has bullets melted down by a silversmith and drawn out into wire so that she can create drawings of sorts; surely an excellent thing to do with bullets. Lead for bullets, lead for pencils. Her work is about destruction and creation.
Parker’s German mother, who was a nurse in the Luftwaffe, and her father had a smallholding where the artist says life was tough. Her childhood Catholicism was ‘full of vivid imagery’ which she absorbed.
Pablo Picasso – Dove of Peace, 1949
Twelve years after Picasso created Guernica – his anti-war and anti-fascism masterpiece, he was invited to create an image representing peace. His first Dove of Peace was a naturalistic picture of a pigeon based on a drawing given to him by his great friend Henri Matisse. Picasso’s dove went through many iterations becoming a series of simple and powerful line drawings. This version was chosen as the emblem for the First International Peace Conference in Paris in 1949. At the Sheffield Congress a year later, Picasso addressed the crowd saying, “I stand for life against death; I stand for peace against war.”
He named his fourth child Paloma, the Spanish word for dove.
Featured images – supplied by Grace Adam