Throughout his career, Colin Self has worked in many media including sculpture, collage and painting. Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber No.2, executed while Colin Self was a student at the Slade School of Art, London, is one of two sculptures that the artist made in 1963 which conflate the skin of a predatory animal with the form of a warplane. The other work is titled Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber No.1 (reproduced Livingstone, p.l40 in colour as Nuclear Bomber). Both pieces exemplify the mood of anxiety and menace that informed Self's work during the early part of the 1960s.
As the Second World War (1939-45) drew to an end in 1945, tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were increasingly apparent. By the mid 1950s the Cold War was escalating at an alarming rate. As relations between the super powers deteriorated still further, British public concern over nuclear weapons reached unprecedented levels. In February 1958 the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was founded and in the spring of that year a series of mass demonstrations began at Aldermaston, a centre for nuclear weapons research fifty miles outside London. With the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 many people thought that nuclear war was a probability. It is against this background that Colin Self made Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber No.2.
The object is a mixed media work made to resemble a warplane. It consists of a piece of wood partly covered in leopardskin to which two model aircraft wings have been attached, one aluminium and painted with the insignia of the United States Airforce, the other wrapped in leopardskin. That part of the plane's fuselage which is not covered in leopardskin is painted a flesh pink, giving the object a phallic quality. The cockpit is designated by a piece of aluminium stuck to the top. Protruding from the nose are several sharp spikes. The fusion of a predatory animal with a warplane was intended as a critique of military aggression.
David McCarthy, Movements in Modern Art: Pop Art, London 2000, reproduced p.67, fig.55 (colour)
Marco Livingstone, Pop Art, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1991