Magazine article The Spectator

Life and Conflict

Magazine article The Spectator

Life and Conflict

Article excerpt

Michael Sandle: Allegory and Refiguration

Ludlow Castle and Shuker's Landrover showroom, Ludlow, Shropshire; Frost & Reed, 2-4 King Street, London SW1, until 3 November

Ever since he burst on the scene in the 1960s Michael Sandle RA has been the rogue elephant of British art. At Ludlow Castle, a perfect venue for work whose subject is war, both metaphorical and actual, his artistic power is irrefutable.

This is a superb show. John Powis, who owns the castle, should be praised for his enlightened patronage and Judy Cox for curating with such panache. The event marks the inauguration of an annual sculpture exhibition of international standard.

The selection covers the past 30 years of Sandle's output, 18 bronzes and one fibreglass, most of it done when he was professor of sculpture at two of Germany's leading art schools.

At a time when hierarchical values have been constantly eroded, Sandle has stood for the pursuit of excellence, for quantifiable artistic and academic standards and public engagement with regard to content.

As Colin Amery, the eminent architectural historian, said when opening the exhibition, Sandle 'is tough because -- unlike the temporarily fashionable contemporary artists -- he is a moralist'.

Like one of his heroes, Wyndham Lewis, Sandle has not only opposed prevailing artistic attitudes but also spoken against them: 'It is my misfortune to see art (read life) as a conflict, as an enervating struggle against mediocrity: in the first instance my own. We do, however, live in times of stupendous, quite heroic mediocrity. It is more than depressing to see the visual arts contaminated . . . with cynicism, or, what is even worse, through benign "democratic" agencies, being turned into a meaningless pap.' Who but those blind to history could disagree?

Pap, cynicism and mediocrity are the last words one would associate with these challenging pieces positioned among the ruins and, in the case of the Tate's 'Twentieth Century Memorial 1971-78', which has to be the outstanding post-war anti-war sculpture, in a local car showroom.

This is art of angry resolve and melancholy reflection done with the obsession of Sandle's own outstanding craftsmanship. Meticulous and sensual bronzes, which take as their subject war's futility and propaganda without losing sight of its seductive power or denying self-expression: 'War obviously goes into my psyche. …

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