In 1932 Gill produced the Prospero and Ariel sculptures which still furnish the exterior of BBC broadcasting house. The BBC chose Shakespeare's The Tempest as a theme in order to make a cultural statement. Prospero was an 'airy' spirit who represented the airwaves of broadcasting. However Gill adapted the sculpture to his own beliefs about culture. And so Prospero and Ariel become God the Father and God the Son. When I arrive at broadcasting house in the flesh all I can see is Eric Gill's big joke on the BBC.
I assume that Gill's sculptures are details hardly noticed as commuters, businessmen and shoppers pass them by. However they are beautiful. I particularly like the detail of the wave that rides the building round as a trimming. I have seen so many photographs of these recently that I don't know what it means to have a set of my own, whether it will mean anything? Nevertheless I get in to the road and flutter about the steps of Langham church making a fool of myself with my camera.
‘Had not Prospero power over the immortal gods? At any rate it seemed to be only right and proper that I should see the matter in as bright a light as possible and so I took it upon me to portray God the father and God the son. For even if that were not Shakespeare’s meaning it ought to be the BBC’s’ Eric Gill
For Eric Gill the light of religion illuminates all creation.
My second stop, and what I assumed was my final, in the short pilgrimage was Westminster Cathedral. In the bitter cold as Christmas is nearing The Stations of the Cross with a little Catholic liturgy thrown in for good measure, seemed satisfyingly appropriate (probably more suited to Easter, but as a heathen I only have a gentle feel for these things). As a raging Catholic sculptor, although relatively unheard of at the time, Gill was asked to furnish the Cathedral's pillars with carvings of the Fourteen stations of the cross. This is Gill's 'Epic' just as The Anathemata is David Jones's; it communicates the whole history of a people and culture even if this history is uniquely that of Religion and the Passion. Mounted on pillars in Westminster these succeed in being epic.
Only one photo for you as the angles were awkward, although I did get some beautiful postcards so perhaps I will share those as a treat eventually. Red lettering and Gold details add subtle decoration, to a stark but beautifully conceived sculpture.
The final joy of the day was arriving at the V&A believing I had, had my warm cosy fill of Gill, only to be confronted by a preparatory carving for Prospero and Ariel in an alcove. I had unwittingly stumbled upon a new landmark in my pilgrimage.
You can deny Eric Gill many things, but not this appreciation. In the V&A Fiona McCarthy's biographical revelations are irrelevancies, Eric Gill is a modern British sculptor whose influence stretches across the exhibition hall from Robert Gibbings to the student of lettering.
To supplement my endless reading on lettering and typography there were framed tablets of Gill's typefaces. He donated them so that they could be studied by the V&A's legacy. You have no idea how often I have consulted black and white reproductions of these, now I am the student poring over them.
Gill's sculpture Mankind is a female cipher for the power of his sculpting. She is a luxurious decapitated monument to sexuality and the sensuality of stone. Gill admired tradition with such fervour but he commands a space in the centre of it all. I spent a long, long time absorbing buttocks, indents, curves and Gill's own deep admiration of the female form. Here she is for your enjoyment.