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Friday, 18 February 2011

Word made Flesh

In 1909, while his wife Mary Gill was pregnant, Eric Gill made his first stone carving. It was the incarnation of frustrated sexual desire, a body which replaced the one he could not have access to; 'Lord! How exciting! - and not merely touching and seeing her but actually making her. I was responsible for her very existence and and her every form came straight out of my heart.' In sculpting Gill became a Pygmalion, treating the stone as flesh and designing his new woman.

The sculpture is sadly lost but sketches remain; we can see a woman crippled beneath the weight of desire bearing an inscription from Aeschylus' Agamemnon 'There is the sea, and who shall drain her dry?' it is an address from Clytaemnestra to her returning husband, but in this context it captures the tumultuous sea of unquenched desires.

Gill described his new discovery of an art language in the terms of letter cutting 'And this new job was the same job, only the letters were different ones. A new alphabet- the word made flesh.' The biblical references of his workman's vocabulary should not be accepted without implication. Gill's sculptures recreate the ultimate act of religious creation, transubstantiation. They make incarnate.

'For stone carving properly speaking isn't just doing things in stone or turning things into stone, a sort of petrifying process; stone carving is conceiving things in stone and conceiving them as made by carving. They are not only born but conceived in stone; they are of stone in their inmost being as well as their outmost existence.'

Eric Gill was the figure who sparked my interest in carving and it was exactly this sense of the corporeality of stone and the sensuality of sculpture, which is more than just representation, that excited me. Gill's sculptures retain the tender touch of the workman who believes in the absolute authority of his medium to translate thought and feeling in to something intelligible.

'in the beginning was a thought not a thing, and therefore it is that intelligibility is the final cause of all things.'


  1. Thank you for leaving a lovely comment on my Blog (re.Gouache)and would like to say that I also really like Eric Gill's work - drawings and scrulpture - - but he 'was' a rather strange character!
    kindest regards,
    Shirley I.

  2. A lovely way to end the working week, with more Eric Gill thank you. Do you know what happened to that first carving that was lost?

  3. I've enjoyed your post about Gill & thought you might like to know about this book of his drawings that was just published: