Ronald Moody

The Colonel

1965

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Not on display

Artist
Ronald Moody 1900–1984
Medium
Lead resin
Dimensions
Object: 370 × 170 × 90 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Ronald Moody Trust 2019
Reference
T15349

Summary

The Colonel 1965 is a small sculpture in lead resin dating from a period in the artist’s career when he moved away from direct carving and experimented with a range of different media, most notably resin. It is a scared male nude figure, infertile with shrivelled genitals, and standing on two peg-legs, set into a base. On his right chest is the image of an aeroplane propeller and his left chest a bomb, while his swollen belly, as if pregnant, shows the face of a baby. The symbols of destruction on his chest appear as decorative and as celebratory as medals, yet his body – mutilated, blistered and swollen – provides evidence of war’s effect. The artist’s niece, Cynthia Moody, has suggested that the face on the belly could signify both ‘the unborn generations who may be denied existence by Man’s headlong rush towards self-annihilation’ and also be ‘suggestive of “the voice within”, struggling in vain to be heard’ (notes by Cynthia Moody provided by the Ronald Moody Trust).

Having fled occupied France in the late 1930s, Jamaican-born Moody finally arrived in Britain in October 1941 having spent a number of years as a refugee from the German occupation. After the war a three-year period of illness with tuberculosis kept him from working in the studio between his exhibition at the Archer Gallery in London in 1946 and his exhibition at the Apollinaire Gallery in London in 1950 – although both exhibitions were positively received critically and despite his standing as an artist, the lack of sales forced him by 1954 to return to practicing as a part-time dental surgeon. In the late 1950s he started to use concrete for his sculptures because of the textural effects that were possible, a blistered, scarred and wounded surface that expressed the vulnerability and fragility of existence he felt in the shadow of the atomic bomb. He continued his search for new materials and, by the mid-1960s, was using different kinds of resins to achieve very similar effects. The Colonel is one example of this development, the first of four works that explicitly address the unchecked militarism and brinkmanship of the cold war through which the human capacity for self-destruction was given free rein.

Moody was significant for being the first recognised Caribbean artist to settle in Britain (he had arrived in London in 1923 to study dentistry). His drive to become an artist was stimulated by his encounter with Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum; he is additionally important because he did not adopt a purely European aesthetic for his work, but one that fused Eastern philosophies with Caribbean and other cultures to create a hybrid modernist language. In 1938 Moody sent twelve major sculptures, including    the monumental carved wood head Midonz 1937 (Tate T13324), to the Harmon Foundation in the United States to be included in    the 1939 exhibition Contemporary Negro Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art    and the Dallas Museum of Art – a key event in the late Harlem Renaissance and for which Moody was one of the few artists from outside the United States to be included.

Despite such prominence, Moody was overlooked by the mainstream and, after 1930, was largely compelled to follow two professions – both as a dental surgeon and artist. Assessing his position, the artist and critic Rasheed Araeen made a telling comparison with his contemporary, the British sculptor Henry Moore (1898–1986):

It is a strange coincidence that Henry Moore also visited the British Museum during the same time and was inspired by, among other things, pre-Columbian Mexican sculpture. There is a similarity between the thinking of Moody and Moore, who both use the human figures as their mode of expression. And yet they are different, not only in terms of their life experiences, and what their works signify, but also in their status. While the former is modest in ambition, knowing his (marginal) place in the colonial society, the later work of Henry Moore seems to relate to the milieu of the post-war imperial ambitions of the British state.
(In Hayward Gallery 1989, p.19.)

Further reading
Rasheed Araeen, The Other Story, Afro-Asian artists in post-war Britain, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1989.
Transforming the Crown, African, Asian & Caribbean Artists in Britain, 1966–1996, exhibition catalogue, Studio Museum Harlem, New York 1997.
Cynthia Moody, The Works of Ronald Moody: Catalogue Raisonné, Bristol (unpublished) 1998.

Andrew Wilson         
November 2018

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