Art: MICHAEL SANDLE Tate Gallery, Liverpool
Friday 11 August 1995
These stones know no appointed hour for grief. The war memorial is an everyday talisman, an essential artefact of the human condition. Michael Sandle understands that. He grew up with war. Four at the time of Dunkirk, Sandle was 10 when they dropped the Bomb and for the past 30 years he has been making art whose theme is war and remembrance. But there is no jingoism in these mute elegies. Not for Sandle the bronze ideal of the plucky British Tommy. He knows the power of memorials and he knows too how they can lie.
Sandle treads territory which most contemporary artists sensibly avoid. For over 50 years, despite the continuing savagery as such isolated conflicts as those in Vietnam and the Balkans, we have been spared global conflict. Consequently, with hindsight, we have an unprecedented awareness of the folly of war, of its brutality and of the bittersweet consolation offered by the empty rhetoric of "glory" and "sacrifice". In a climate of such honesty, further memorials to the fallen might seem unnecessary. That this is not so is demonstrated by Sandle's current Liverpool show, in which he both justifies the memorial as a continuing art form and explores the idea of the "anti-memorial".
The earliest work here, Twentieth Century War Memorial, is also the most immediate and brutal. A skeletal gunner with the head of a blind, android Mickey Mouse sits behind a polished brass Browning machine gun. With this one sculpture, Sandle can conjure up Armageddon better than any number of photographs of bloated bodies hung on the barbed wire of the Somme.
The room is dominated, however, by Der Trommler (The Drummer), a massive bronze dating from 1985, which, while it owes much to Epstein's Rock Drill, has nevertheless a relentless presence entirely its own. If, in his grotesque Mickey Mouse, Sandle portrays Death poised to fire, then The Drummer is surely the embodiment of the loathsome impulse which propels man into that inescapable hail of bullets.
The third major piece here is very different. The Malta Siege Bell Memorial, represented by a detailed model, has none of the savagery of Sandle's earlier works. Jutting out high up on the island's rocky coastline, a giant bronze figure rests in death, atop a massive catafalque. Behind, within a classical temple, hangs a huge bell. The contrast of the two creates a tense equilibrium which suggests that the passing of one has somehow stilled the other. Its imagery also recalls such unwarlike poets as Donne and Wilfred Owen. It is at once deeply moving and utterly untainted by sentimentality.
The war memorial might be, to the cynic, merely a vain attempt to reach the irrecoverable past, but at its best, in the work of Michael Sandle, it is much more. A monument not to war, but to love and hope and hopelessness, it also prefigures that which is yet to come. Certainly, and sadly, Sandle will never be out of a job.
n To 10 Sept (0151 709 3223)
filmFilm producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
voicesJust when you thought you could find a man, get married, and have a baby by the age of 35... it turns out you’re too late, says Grace Dent
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
musicAs Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their classics, why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for 20 years?
theatreAuthor Daniel Rosenthal recalls the mishaps that almost brought the curtain down on the likes of John Gielgud and Diana Rigg
lifeAs the Royal Mail plans to phase out deliveries on two wheels, it's no wonder posties are in a spin
musicThe 21-year-old beat Ella Eyre and Chlöe Howl to win the honour
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
Arts & Ents blogs
The desolation of the Weinstein brothers: Film producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
Christmas songs: the best and the worst
Your Money, Money, Money please - Abba ask fans for £195 pledges on direct-to-fan website
Not all right on the night
Lost Peter Sellers films Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia Is Good for You hailed as the movie equivalent of 'finding Dead Sea Scrolls'
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute in Soweto
- 2 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 3 Australia: Gay marriage law reversed by high court less than a week after first weddings
- 4 Exeter to Edinburgh and back in a day: How one fresher's lost bet left him facing a 900-mile round trip
- 5 Australia incest case: Severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- < Previous
- Next >