1938-9 by Jacob Epstein
Modern British Sculpture, Royal Academy until 7th April 2011; permanently at Harewood House, Yorkshire
Epstein is perhaps better known for his sculpture The Rock Drill, an iconic Futurist piece that featured a mechanical human-like torso with a chiselled and streamlined head. Adam is obviously more organic in inspiration; executed some years later, the work looks to visualise a persona that supports the historical story of man, rather than create a vision of the industrial new. The material is immediately reflective of this; Adam is carved of a wonderfully earthy coloured marble rather than metallic black, a sea of earth and matter running through the dark veins of his vast and pearly limbs. Where The Rock Drill is chiselled to the point of purpose Adam’s physique is magnificently large, swelled to the greatness, the arrogance even, of the figure of man. His chest thrusts forward, hands framing either side, and the head is thrown back in a state of awe or satisfied ecstasy. The upper body is chiselled only in the definition and strength of muscular tone, while the lower thighs and buttocks are bulbous to the point of being grotesque. It is a grotesqueness that serves to demonstrate the intensity of the power of this figure in time and space – this sculpture is truly a stamp, a domination, on any room. This element of the grotesque in Epstein’s determined and innate demonstration of masculinity is epitomised in the large and shining penis that fronts the figure triumphantly. Massive and swinging joyfully this phallic symbol serves to both outline humanity and to shock its audience, resting as it does at eye level. Though potentially pornographic, it serves to represent Adam as he is portrayed here – large and representative of the beginning of an awesome race. Epstein’s strong stylistic approach and magnificent overall size of sculpture equalises the phallus, allowing the figure in its entirety to present an overwhelming figure that aims to match that of its more traditional ancestors.