Bring out the beast in yourself

As you enter the Royal Academy’s courtyard, you get face to face with a steel beast that stares back at you with the intensity of President Putin glaring at the map of Crimea.


This cross between Stephen King’s Langoliers and a huge vacuum cleaner is fast, deadly, and reflecting you if you get close enough.

I wanted to get away from its line of sight before it sucked me in, but when I crouched the beast turned into a howling cubist penis, which was even more disconcerting.


Lynn Chadwick is the name of the sculptor who made them in the 1990s, when he was in his early 80s.

Why would a man at this age want to make a scary group of steel animals? Perhaps, being married three times does it to you.

My all-time favourite group by Chadwick is this, aptly christened The Sitting Watchers (1974-1975).

Chadwick_SittingWatchers These attentively relaxed watchers, made at the time when typewriters were still selling well, suddenly take on a new meaning today: think of Snowden and his revelations.

And the symbolism of the observer’s face reflecting in the polished metal of the watchers’ “sceenfaces” enhances the unintended allusion.

It is also possible, of course, that Chadwick was not just a great sculptor but a prophet as well.

On a more serious note, when I was a kid, back in the Soviet Moscow and at about the same time these sculptures were made, we used to have a bench in front of each entrance to almost any apartment block. These benches were occupied, dawn to dusk, by three or more “babushkas” (old and otherwise lonely ladies) who would watch everyone leaving or entering the block. They’d wait for the passer-by to go beyond the hearing range to voice their opinion or suspicions. Many a girl in a mini-skirt would be branded “a whore” then. Often, when they would be still in the hearing range.

I am sure you had your own watchers.


  1. Nicely put: “with the intensity of President Putin glaring at the map of Crimea” 🙂 The more I read your blog, the more I love your writing stlyle!

    The Sitting Watchers are indeed amazing. Its power not only comes from the flat-screen-head, I think, but also derives from thier silence and muteness–they don’t have mouth or ear. The omission of vocal and hearing organs gives me a rather uncanny feeling that I don’t know how to interpret. The muted watchers could be understood in different ways, and perhaps I should google the artist to know more about the context, in addition to your already insightful and empirical introduction.

    I’m also thinking about reflection, since what they “see” are directly reflected on their screen-heads. And we could watch ourselves through such refelction, and their “gaze” could be accompanied by that of our own, and hence the gaze is mutual. When we are watching them, that is to say, these “watchers” are also watching us.The watchers are simultaneously being watched, and the watched have also become watchers.

    Sorry if I have over-interpreted the work. I just love it and want to think more and learn more about this fascinating piece.

    1. Ok, now I have got an interpretation of the muteness: even if they don’t speak, we know they’re out there, watching our every steps, and we don’t even have the chance to let them hear our thoughts, cos they have no ear. This echoes your memory of old ladies sitting in the bench, watching people passing by and judging them when they are out of the ear range.

      Continue reading your analysis, I also notice that you mentioned reflection, too 🙂

    2. I am very grateful for your comment and your kind words. Really. When I understand that posts I write resonate with readers on their own personal level, I understand I am running this show for something good that comes out of it.

      One of the fine qualities of any great work of art is its ability to inspire personal interpretations. Don’t ever be afraid to over-interpret or over-feel )) Another quality is that once you think you’ve answered some questions that the work had posed for you, extra questions start popping up.

      Let me show what I mean:

      In the first (or early) version of the watchers (from the late 60s, if I remember right), the three watchers didn’t have their polished faces. Why?

      Chadwick would often show connection between his figures by welding or casting them together at some points: his lovers would be linked at the knee level or at the level of their torsos, for instance. These three figures are linked, but in a different way. Why and how?

      A great work of art always has more to offer, if you keep asking questions )

      1. Thanks for the reply, and I totally agree with your thoughts on “the fine qualities of art work”!

        I’m now fascinated with Lynn Chadwick, and was wondering if there’s any good introductory books to his work that you would recommend? All I could find from my local library are some photo-albums of his sculptures, all published before 1990.

      2. Thanks for the reply, and I totally agree with your thoughts on “the fine qualities of art work”!

        I’m now fascinated with Lynn Chadwick, and was wondering if there’s any good introductory books to his work that you would recommend? All I could find from my local library are some photo-albums of his sculptures published before 1990.

    1. I know an artist in his 80s who – while being recognised and loved – cares very much what people think. And, of course, he claims he doesn’t ) So, it depends on the character, I guess, even though some “earthly” thoughts may indeed stop visiting a senior artist.

        1. Logic says it must be true, but it was Vasary who noted back in the 16th c that a true artist must be filled with vanity (among other qualities, certainly).

  2. Perhaps a person in their 80’s needs to be scary to counteract the even more frightening feeling of being invisible. Have you noticed how relieved older people react when you look at them? Try it, I do it more and more, receiving grateful smiles.

    1. In Russia, seniors are conspicuously respected while they are inconspicuously disregarded. That’s one of the less pleasing sides of the Russian culture.

  3. Whatever do you mean, Putin looks at Crimea with all the love and tenderness in the world, it’s His Precious 😉
    PS – Howling Cubist Penis is my ‘Disturbing Imagery of the Week.’

It would be grand to hear from you now!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: