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)
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
- 2 Fifa corruption: Europe plots to stage an 'alternative World Cup' in place of Russia 2018
- 3 How much sex should I be having?
- 4 Jaden Smith wears gender fluid dress to high school prom with Hunger Games actress
- 5 Betting company 'refuse to pay' after student wins £1,000 from 50p bet on Roger Federer
The 1975 leave social-media after tweeting cryptic comic strip hinting at break up
Britain's Got Talent 2015 final: Winner Matisse had secret dog double, says owner Jules O'Dwyer
Britain's Got Talent 2015 final: Vote reveals Jules O'Dwyer beat Jamie Raven by just 2% despite using 'stunt dog double'
Top Gear to follow Have I Got News For You format with 'different host for each episode'
Britain's Got Talent final 2015: Ofcom receives 90 complaints about Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden's 'revealing dresses'
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Why this year's general election was the most unfair in Britain's history