Detail of The Rock Drill by Jacob Epstein (1913-14), reconstruction by Ken Cook and Ann Christopher RA, after the dismantled original, 1973-4. © Estate of Jacob Epstein; photograph: © Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
The Royal Academy in London is presenting an exhibition double whammy this autumn. Alongside its excellent Anish Kapoor show, the museum is hosting Wild Thing, an exhibition bringing together sculptures by Eric Gill, Jacob Epstein, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska for the first time.
The RA show aims to emphasise the links between the three men, who while hailing from diverse backgrounds explored similiar themes in their art, with ideas of sex, fertility, and the human condition appearing in all their work. The three were also linked in life: Epstein, who was born in New York, became friends with Gill after his arrival in London in 1905. Both artists explored themes of virility, fertility and procreation in their sculptural works, with Gill somewhat amusingly describing Epstein as “quite mad about sex” (pot, kettle?).
Ecstasy (1910-11) by Eric Gill, © Estate of Eric Gill/Bridgeman Art Library; Photograph: Tate, London
Later, in 1911, Gaudier-Brzeska visited Epstein in his Paris studio, and was hugely influenced by his Tomb of Oscar Wilde, which was on display (sketches for this are at the RA show). Gaudier-Brzeska was killed in the first world war at the age of just 23, but produced a significant body of work in his short life.
Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill (1913-14) by Jacob Epstein; © Estate of Jacob Epstein; Photograph: © Tate, London
At the centre of WIld Thing is Epstein’s sculptural masterpiece Rock Drill, which appears in two forms: as a mock-up of how he originally created it (detail shown top), with the robotic form astride an weapon-like drill, and the Torso (above) that remains from this work. While the fuss these three artists caused with their depictions of sex seems quaintly old-fashioned in light of the art shown today (see the Pop Life show currently at the Tate Modern for reference), the sinister undertones of Rock Drill remain darkly current.
The Devil’s Devices, featuring woodcut by Eric Gill, courtesy Ditchling Museum
For fans of Gill’s type design and printed works, Wild Thing is a little lacking, with only one piece of print work on show. But for those more interested in this aspect of his oeuvre, a trip to the Ditchling Museum in Sussex will also prove rewarding. Gill moved to Ditchling from London in 1907, and stayed there until 1924. Several significant life events occurred during his time there, including the shift from being a craftsman to a fine artist (he had been working as a letter-cutter and calligrapher in London) and his conversion to Catholicism.
Cover of The Game, by Eric Gill, courtesy Ditchling Museum
The museum offers an opportunity to view less well-known pieces of Gill’s design, alongside giving an insight into the community and landscape that was so central to his work during his time in Ditchling. A number of other artists and designers joined Gill there, and the Museum has a large collection of works made during this period (and also after Gill left), including typographic works by Edward Johnston, who taught Gill and followed him to the village. It was in Ditchling that Johnston designed the original typeface and logo for the London Underground.
Cover of The Guild Rules by Eric Gill, courtesy Ditchling Museum
Also on display at the Ditchling Museum is the Stanhope printing press that Gill used, and the museum is keen to encourage ‘away days’ for graphic designs studios to use the press and visit the collection. Please contact the museum for details about this.