‘The past is not dead, it is not even the past.’ William Faulkner


Michael Sandle is one of the world’s foremost sculptors, his most famous work the Malta Siege Memorial at the entrance to Valletta’s Grand Harbour – commemorating those who died in the heroic defence of the island in the Second World War.


Sandle is traditional in regarding the sculptor’s role as a public one, in his case that of a memorialist: ‘One’s identity is inseparable from memory, who we are and whether life is worth living or not. The concept of a nation is based on memory. History is always subject to review. Memory is far more important. If you disrespect death, you disrespect life; and if you disrespect life, then what’s the point of living?’


Sandle does not like to describe himself as a ‘sculptor’. It is too limited. He is an ‘artist’, for whom a three-dimensional masterpiece is the ultimate product of a process founded in drawing. In ‘getting the image right’ etching has a special significance for him, a medium which bridges drawing and sculpture, the line carved into the metal plate.


‘It’s the most bloody awful, long-winded, way of creating an image, incredibly hard work, but in nothing else do you get that richness of texture, those velvety blacks,’ he explains. ‘And always there’s a high degree of the unexpected; the effect of the acid on the plate is never totally in one’s control.’


For an artist who has always gone for broke, who has risked years of his career perfecting self-imposed masterpieces – the ‘masterpiece’ always his climactic aim – this gambling element in etching is compulsive.


Now the Canadian Cascadia Publications Group has had the inspired idea of commissioning Sandle to make six etchings in editions of 150 on a subject of his own choosing......The extraordinary result is Ghost Series, a profoundly moving reflection on the First World War.


The ‘ultimate’ three-dimensional form to emerge from the Ghost Series would be a memorial foot-bridge to one of the war’s ‘pals’ regiments’. Pals’ regiments were a British way of encouraging recruitment and esprit de corps by letting friends who volunteered together fight in the same units. It often led to communities being decimated for a generation. Sandle had in mind a group of pals from a district of the Yorkshire city of Leeds, who were killed almost to a man on the infamous first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.


Two of the etchings, I and IV, show a soldier in the last split-second of life as the bomb blasts. In the other four, soldiers under fire cross a damaged metal bridge. The figures in II and III are larger and the leading man has been shot. The dramatic diagonals of the bridge gleam in the enfolding darkness. The soldiers are even more ghostly in V and VI, some barely visible. In VI splintered trees shaft the darkness and the black of the foreground river is of an oily depth only etching can achieve.


The First World War will always haunt the imagination because it was so peculiarly tragic, while its historical importance is beyond measure: the breakwater between the old world and the new – in Canada’s case, as the great memorial on Vimy Ridge proclaims, the very birth of a nation.


Sandle is not partisan. He accepts war, and especially the First World War, as a metaphor of the human tragedy. That each one of us, however well protected or equipped, crosses life’s bridge from the unknown to the unknown; that each day is a battle ‘fighting forces beyond our control, even within ourselves’. And that however many pals we may have, we ultimately face that dark conflict alone.


~ John McEwen, author of 'The Sculpture of Michael Sandle' (Lund Himphries).


MUSEUM ART COLLECTIONS: Sandle's works are in major public collections worldwide. UK: Arnolfini, Bristol; Arts Council Collection, London; Atkinson Gallery, Southport; British Council Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London; British Museum, London; Contemporary Art Society, London; Government Collection, London; Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, Imperial War Museum, London; Leicestershire Collection for Schools, Leicester; Mercer Gallery, Harrogate; Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester; Oldham Art Gallery, Oldham; Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter; Tate Gallery, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Whitworth Museum, University of Manchester; Australia: Australia National Gallery, Canberra; Germany: Bundesministerium des Innern, Bonn; Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; Städtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim; Wilhelm-Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg; Isle of Man: Manx Museum, Douglas; Japan: Hakone Open Air Museum; Poland: Muzeum Narodowe, Gdansk; Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz; USA: Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden-New-Orleans; Museum of Art, Dallas; Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle; Metropolitan Museum, New York.




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