From Stonehenge, to Easter Island, to Nelson’s Column, monumental over-lifesize sculpture must surely be one of the most fundamental human creations. Yet, in our increasingly atomised society there is less and less place for epic pieces carved in stone or cast in bronze.
The Fourth Plinth series in London’s Trafalgar Square is perhaps the most famous UK offering in this genre, but it always seems to take an ironic swipe at ideas of monumentalism and public grandeur. The current piece, Gift Horse by Hans Haacke, shows a skeletal horse with an LED bow on his foreleg showing a ticker-tape of share prices. It’s a parody of the equestrian statues around and of the wheeler-dealing ways of art-world price escalation. It’s overtly political and subverts the genre.
One of the few artists unashamed of the monumental is the nonconformist sculptor Lorenzo Quinn – son the of the famous Hollywood actor Anthony, who cuts his own unique path through the art world. Quinn could have gone into acting like his father, but gravitated towards the archaic technique of bronze sculpture using the lost-wax technique – as practiced by Bernini and Rodin. He is known for his huge public sculptures that appeal to a wide audience with their sensuous depictions of the human body.
In his subject matter, Quinn is fascinated by form (as you would expect from a sculptor). Hands are the hardest things for artists to depict, but they have become Quinn’s signature – full of energy and symbolism. It is hands, after all, that let us create art.
Quinn’s traditional approach left him somewhat outside the contemporary art world, but in 2011, he was a surprise choice for the Italian Pavilion and main pavilion of the Venice Biennale – chosen by the respected curator Vittorio Sgarbi. Quinn produced one of the most striking images of that year’s Biennale: a set of huge (over-lifesize) toy soldiers and a real Russian tank, being manipulated by two enormous disembodied hands (pictured). It was an unusually political work for Quinn, but one that could not have been achieved by another artist less practiced in this technique, as many contemporary artists will get a third party to model and cast their works for them.
Some of Quinn’s latest works are going on show in London this month at the Halcyon Gallery – in an exhibition on the great Brazilian footballer Pélé.