Art Spotlight: Jacob Epstein's 'Torso in Metal'


"Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill'" by Jacob Epstein Wikimedia Commons

Let's take a moment to consider the stark metallic humanoid of Jacob Epstein's 'Torso in Metal.'

Epstein (1880-1959) made his name in the art world through the creation of stark, controversial modern sculptures. This piece is particularly interesting since it encapsulates how WWI tarnished the artist's optimism (and by extension, humanity's optimism) for the a new technological age.

(© Marco Secchi/Corbis)

To the right you'll see a reproduction of Epstein's original 1913 piece "Rock Drill," in which a white, plaster version of the figure sits atop an actual rock drill. While the piece is not without its own ambiguous menace, the post-war followup took a far more negative stance on man and machine.

Epstein dismantled "Rock Drill" in 1916 and recreated the brooding figure halved, armless and cast in bronze. "Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill'" gave us, in Einstein's own words, only this:

"A machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconced. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made ourselves into..."

Or, in the words of art critic Jonathan Jones, the original piece is "a Faustian dream of technological power and transformation" while the dark follow-up is "a maimed machine, the tragic embodiment of mechanised warfare. The same work of art in its two versions expresses both the exhilaration of the modern world, and its potential for devastation."

If you find yourself in London, you can also view the sculpture at the Tate Modern. I had the good fortune to do so several years ago and it was accompanied by the following piece of music from The Chemical Brothers:

Visit the Tate Modern website right here for more information.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.

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