Shame a local artist didn’t create Dame Lois sculpture
It has been some weeks since the unveiling of the Dame Lois Browne Evans sculpture in the Government's new Dame Lois Browne Evans Building. However, because of commitments out of Bermuda, only recently did I have an opportunity to see the sculpture. I had seen photographs of it, but in order to critically evaluate any work of art, it is important to see the original work.
Some months ago, I did write a couple letters to Premier [Paula] Cox and one I copied to the Editor of
The Royal Gazette. These letters were in regard to the Dame Lois sculpture and in that instance, I did so because Bermudian artists had been shut out of any consideration in the selection of the artist to make the work. Although at that time, I had seen photographs of the work, I purposely avoided making any comment about the work itself. I wanted to see the work in situ, in relation to the new court building.
Now having seen the sculpture in place, in the entrance foyer of this new building, I can make two general comments; it is not as bad as I had been led to believe, but yet I am disappointed in the work. I see it as a lost opportunity for a Bermudian artist, who, I think, could have brought to it memories and emotions that are absent from the present sculpture.
Indeed, it comes across as a kind of three-dimensional photograph and I have every reason to believe that it was based on a photograph. I am fairly certain that [American sculptor Zenos] Frudakis never had the opportunity to meet and know Dame Lois. Still, Mr Frudakis is an able sculptor and to be truthful, he did successfully capture her likeness, but because he comes to the subject as an outsider, there is a certain matter of fact quality to the work. Indeed, it is loaded with minute, extraneous details, such as the decorative patterns in the shoes, the pleats in her gown and the details in her wig, so much so, some may think she is wearing curlers in her hair. Additionally, the use of several different bronze patinas is distracting.
Dame Lois was a fighter and no matter what one might think about her, everyone, I am certain, has to admit that she was a force to be reckoned with. Why then is she depicted sitting sedately, as if saying, “I take sugar with my tea”? I would have thought that she would and should have been shown in a standing position, as if in action, either as a politician or as a barrister.
I cannot help but compare this sculpture with two powerful works of notable individuals. I think of Auguste Rodin's sculpture of the French writer, Balzac and also, the monument to Churchill in London's Parliament Square, by Ivor Roberts. In both instances, they are in a standing position. Actually both are leaning slightly forward, which gives both works a greater sense of forcefulness.
It might seem nit-picking, but there are several details in the Dame Lois sculpture that I feel, I must mention. One is the rather clumsy handling of the hands and the other is the particularly lumpy articulation of leg to foot, especially the left leg. The unfortunate handling of the hands, is further exacerbated by contrasting them with the precision of the reading glasses she is holding.
Since the sculpture is placed on such a slight plinth, one is almost forced to look down on Dame Lois. What do I understand from that? Does Government actually want people to look down on Dame Lois? I hardly think so, but who is advising Government in art matters anyway? We have a Government-appointed Arts Council, but I know they were not consulted.
I have heard various reasons for commissioning a foreign artist to create a sculpture of Dame Lois, but the one that continually comes up is that Mr Frudakis was less expensive than a Bermudian artist. But since the commission was never opened to local artists, how was that determined? It has also been suggested that, with Mr Frudakis, the Bermuda Government was even able to negotiate the price down, but local artists might also have been willing to negotiate a reasonable price. We will never know, for they were never given a chance. The fact that the Bermuda Government commissioned a foreign artist to create the Dame Lois sculpture without even opening the opportunity to local artists, dishonours the legacy of Dame Lois and by extension, tarnishes the way we see her sculpture. I can hardly imagine she would have approved.