Saint Jerome beats Himself while contemplating Christ’s Suffering
2012 by Michael Landy
Saints Alive, 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 working. Only one sculpture wasn’t working when I visited, but this had little effect on my 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, but 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 without the three-dimensional contraptions, Landy’s drawings of other ideas for sculptures are fascinating. Perhaps too ambitious to be realised three-dimensionally, each curious being still plays 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 physically jump out at us from this playful visualisation of Saint Jerome’s thoughts. The juxtaposition of traditional painting and energetically drawn springs and cogs pulls us in with humour – the pages of a book, a head, the lion with its thorn, all brightly suspended above. Like fragments of brilliant memory, Landy draws details of various paintings together creatively, shaking up our preconceived perceptions and inviting us to look a little closer.