Saint Jerome beats Himself while contemplating Christ’s Suffering
2012 by Michael Landy
Saints Alive, until 24 November ’13, The National Gallery
Michael Landy’s exhibition at The National Gallery has had mixed reviews, though it seems mostly to do with the fact that the sculptures are not always guaranteed to be working. Only one sculpture wasn’t working when I visited, and this had little effect on my positive reaction. Even without their loud and unexpected noises, Landy’s sculptures are large and original; casting recognisable elements of National Gallery paintings before our eyes, allowing them to grow into oversized abstractions. These details – an arm, a torso – are connected to each other with rusty old machinery, as if the ancient cogs of thought behind these old master paintings have been slowly turned into action. We see Doubting Thomas’s determined finger prod Christ’s chest enthusiastically, and so the tale is provoked within our minds. The fact that children and adults alike have been drawn back to the wealth of Saintly depictions in the National Gallery’s collection can only be good, reigniting interest in the emotions that drove each artist to their painting. Even if the contraptions are not working, Landy’s drawings of other ideas for sculptures are fascinating. Perhaps too ambitious to be realised three-dimensionally, they still play out before us, as our eye is guided along and up the arms of imagination. Here we have Saint Jerome, mighty Grecian fists at the ready for his beating, while his contemplation of Christ’s suffering expands above his thoughtful gaze. Empathy and the awe of Christ’s past jump out at us from this playful visualisation of Saint Jerome’s thoughts, the juxtaposition of traditional painting and energetically drawn springs and cogs pulling us in with humour – the pages of a book, a head, the lion with its thorn, all brightly suspended. Like fragments of brilliant memory, Landy draws details of various paintings together creatively, shaking our perception of them and inviting us to look a little closer.