Bernard Meadows’s casting of a skeletal creature, somewhere between a fish and a crab, draws on his war experience. He was stationed with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War on the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean. While he was there, he became fascinated by the life of the coral atolls, especially the gigantic crabs which patrolled the shoreline.
“After the War, the crab became an iconic expression of violence and vulnerability in his sculpture.”
Meadows’s ‘Black Crab’, now in Tate, was one of the pieces by young British sculptors shown at the Venice Biennale of 1952 which the critic, Herbert Read, described as representing “the geometry of fear.” He cited T.S. Eliot’s poetry of loss, The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock, in which the poet regrets how “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” when he should instead have lived a more elemental life: “ I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas”. Meadows described ‘Black Crab’ as “the distillation or essence of crabness”.
Meadows’s brooches are essentially sculptural forms, even if they are miniatures which are intended to be worn. Something of the violence of ‘Black Crab’ is in the Company’s brooch, which was commissioned by Graham Hughes for the 1961 modern Jewellery exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Hall. It was modelled in wax by the artist, then cast by H.J. Co. Ltd to be shown at the Hall. It demonstrates the evolution of Meadows’s interest in texture and surface treatments in his bronzes; as Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art from 1960, he introduced a foundry where he could cast his own work.
Object photography by Clarissa Bruce.
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