Bernard Meadows



Not on display

Bernard Meadows 1915–2005
Object: 207 × 700 × 260 mm, 26 kg
Presented by the artist 2002


In the mid 1960s Meadows replaced the textured surfaces of his earlier sculptures with smooth, rounded forms, and the earlier naturalistic subjects of animals and figures with abstractions. The element of fear and anxiety which had characterised his early work, however, was retained. Alan Bowness described Help as a ‘cry of pain from the crushed ocular form’ (Bowness, p.17). He continued:

The reversal is not always absolute; sometimes it is rather a question of a reversal of the earlier proportion of soft to hard. A work like the bronze Help which seems to convey the helplessness of vulnerable components, uses this interplay to strong narrative effect. At this point the cruelty which one might have associated with his earlier works becomes played out within the work itself’ (Bowness, p.20).

This bronze sculpture represents a sphere being crushed by two solid forms, the punctured surface suggesting a wound or an eye. The analogy with the human situation is carried further by the title, which implies a cry of pain. Meadows was interested in the philosophy of Existentialism and Help reflects some of the 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. These concerns also align Meadows’s sculpture with Francis Bacon’s (1909-92) paintings, especially his variations on the Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650 by Velazquez (1599-1660), in the Pope’s open mouth project a cry for help.

W. J. Strachan notes that Meadows began to explore the idea of soft shapes under pressure or crushed between solid and compact forms, in his drawings. He makes a comparison between the famous Italian Baroque sculpture Apollo and Daphne by Bernini (1598-1680) and Meadows’s interest in ‘simulated ‘squeezed’ forms’ (W. J. Strachan Towards Sculpture: Drawings and Maquettes from Rodin to Oldenberg, London 1976, p.32). Meadows repeated the idea of squeezed forms on a much larger scale when he was commissioned to produce a sculpture for the headquarters of the Eastern Counties Newspapers (Prospect House) in Norwich. In addition he stated that the idea for a later work, Lovers,1980 (Tate T03811), developed out of this sculpture.

Further reading:
Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows: Sculpture and Drawings, London 1995, reproduced in colour pl.86, p.101

Heather Birchall
November 2002

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