Shot Bird is one of a series of sculptures of animals that were Meadows’s principal work in the 1950s. His interest in this genre followed a commission in 1954 from the Hertfordshire Director of Education to create a sculpture for a new school to be built in London Colney, near St Albans. The result was a cockerel which, although nearly double life size, was startlingly naturalistic. The success of the venture led to Meadows’s exploration of the formal possibilities of sculpture based on animals. In the following years sculptures of birds (usually cockerels) and crabs dominated his output. Alan Bowness explained that it was ‘not so much that he was interested in animals for their own sakes, but as vehicles for the human figure. These animal sculptures carry an emotional charge that is immediately translatable into human terms’ (Bowness, p.12). The outstretched wings and legs of Shot Bird demonstrate the helplessness of the bird following the penetration of the bullet. The large, hollow structure attached to its body perhaps represents the force of the shot that has undoubtedly killed the creature.
Animals, birds, insects and marine creatures were frequently the subject matter of sculptures by Meadows’ contemporaries, including John Hoskin (1921-90), Lynn Chadwick (born 1914), Eduardo Paolozzi (born 1924) and William Turnbull (born 1922).
Elisabeth Frink (1930-93), who was taught by Meadows at the Chelsea School of Art while she was a student there between 1949 and 1953, also began to produce sculptures of crows and ravens in the early 1950s. Like Meadows, she intended the dark patina and textured surface to create a sense of the anxiety and aggression which she felt in the period following World War II (1939-45) and the onset of the Cold War. As Meadows explained, his work was ‘all about the human condition. The crabs, and the birds, and the armed figures, the pointing figures, are all about fear ... perhaps not fear, it’s vulnerability’ (Interview with Tamsyn Woollcombe, Artists’ Lives, November 1992, Tate Gallery Archive, TAV415A).
Herbert Read, ‘New Aspects of British Sculpture’, Exhibition of Works by Sutherland, Wadsworth, Adams, Armitage, Butler, Chadwick, Clarke, Meadows, Moore, Paolozzi, Turnbull, exhibition catalogue, British Council, London 1952
Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows: Sculpture and Drawings, London 1995, reproduced pl.35, p.57