Alan Bowness describes a shift in Meadows’s output in 1961 ‘from animal to human, from victim to aggressor’ (Bowness, p.15). He identifies a visit to Florence in 1960 as leading to the change in the direction of his work. During this trip Meadows was attracted by a number of Renaissance sculptures, including Michelangelo’s (1475-1564) marble bust of Brutus, 1540, in the Bargello Museum. This over life size carving of the Roman senator evokes both wrath and contempt, Michelangelo describing it as ‘a beast in human form’ (quoted in Bowness, p.15).

Meadows made many contemporary versions specifically of the busts he had seen such as Armed Bust II: Brutus, 1961 and Augustus, 1963. He described this series: ‘The figures are armoured, aggressive and protected, but inside the safety of the shell they are completely soft and vulnerable’. He continued to note that they are like tycoons and dictators ‘who are protected by the paraphernalia of their offices and retinues, but who are soft inside. Bullies are frightened people’ (quoted in Bowness, p.15). Armed Bust IV is one of a series which Meadows began in 1961 at the same time as his Armed Figures. Compared to the latter series, the busts appear at first sight to be abstract constructions. However they are details of these figures, the sharp point representing an arm and the solid weight, the torso. The concept that the body is barely recognisable adds to the pathos of the sculpture.

The distinctive angularity and textured surfaces of much of Meadows’s work has been interpreted in terms of the contemporary philosophical interest in Existentialism and the political anxiety of the Cold War. Meadows has confirmed his interest in Existentialism, and Armed Bust IV reflects some of the recurring themes in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) and Albert Camus (1913-60), such as the individual’s fundamental isolation and the belief that human life has no purpose (Meadows, p.7). These concerns also align Meadows’s sculpture with Francis Bacon’s (1909-92) paintings, especially his variations on Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez (1599-1660).

Further reading:
Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows: Sculpture and Drawings, London 1995, reproduced, pl.119, p.132

Heather Birchall
November 2002