Exhibition: Nic Fiddian-Green: The Head of Christ, Watts Gallery, Compton, until June 10 2012
Art might have come a long way in the past 2,000 years, but the sculptures of contemporary artist Nic Fiddian-Green show how the influence of Christian symbolism remains as strong as ever.
His new exhibition at the Watts explores the image of Christ via a series of busts and reliefs brought together for the first time.
The works in bronze, lead and silver, which can be seen in the gallery’s Showcase Gallery and woodland, have been described as an exploration of the sculptural process as a metaphor of Christ’s death and resurrection.
As Curatorial Fellow Mary McMahon explains, there is a parallel in the way that the sculptures are born in the casting from molten metal or weathered lead.
“The phrase 'born, to be broken and rise again' relates poetically to the process of constructing these heads of Christ,” she says.
Fiddian-Green works his pieces by weathering, patinating and modifying them until a new work is produced that has a fresh presence and impact.
He says the idea for the series evolved from seeing images taken by the photographer Richard Foster of a lead fragment retrieved from an obscure shelf in his workshop. As he puts it, the image recorded on film “revealed something I had never seen”.
“Lit from beneath I could see the sad, sorrowful and resigned expression so clearly on Christ’s face and his worn skin was stretched over his vulnerable and broken ribs that seemed to press out through the dark curtain of lead.”
Enlivened and excited, he took a new leaf of lead and, “with hammer and wooden peg”, returned to the original slate until “something new was born, to be broken and rise again."
Fiddian-Green’s art is regularly exhibited worldwide. His sculptural monuments have found permanent homes across the British Isles and the Commonwealth, from the 33-foot bronze Still Water at Marble Arch to the 35-foot horse’s head Artemis, which was transported to the Great Dividing Range in Australia to mark the grave of media tycoon Kerry Packer.
In fact, an interest in equine art is something he shares with George Frederic Watts. As well as being the top painter of portraiture of the Victorian period, Watts was a remarkable sculptor who drew from the Parthenon’s equestrian sources for his colossal work entitled Physical Energy.
Watts’ endless innovation and universal themes remain surprisingly influential for artists of today, and the Watts Gallery contemporary exhibition programme allows visitors to discover the fertile sources of modern inspiration in the achievements of past masters.