I’m slowly accumulating a long strand of this blog about sculpture and other forms of memorial and art installed in and around the ruins of Cadw, English Heritage and other castles. Recently I visited Helmsley Castle, North Yorkshire, for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the ruins and the exhibition exploring its journey from medieval fortress through Tudor mansion to Civil War stronghold and Victorian ruin.
In addition, there were three sculptures of medieval warrior figures, installed as a set and situated to confront the visitor on the approach to the barbican gate.
The figures have been a long-term feature of Helmsley Castle, created by Malcolm Brocklesby and installed in 1995. The plaques explain that they are intended to evoke a ‘zen approach’ to martial arts, thus evoking how weapons merged with the warriors using them.
There is the Pikeman:
and the Archer:
Positioned as they are, they interact with the archaeology: sparking the imagination regarding the martial dimensions of the fortress. Clearly they are not realistic impressions of medieval warriors, but speak across time and space about warrior relationships with their weapons.
Deploying such overtly martial themes in a castle context is a bold and perhaps problematic choice. Certainly, it stands in stark contrast to the sombre mourning sculpture by Ivor Roberts-Jones, inspired by the Mabinogion, outside Harlech Castle, serving as both a counter to the English colonial military architecture, and a broader statement about the folly of war. This major sculpture was installed only 11 years before the Helmsley warriors, but reveals very different understandings of castles and their relationship to medieval conflict and medieval warriors, and to the late 20th/21st century Britain’s perception of warfare past and present.
I will leave it to others to comment on the merits of the art, but I do want to point out that castles seem to attract the full set of intersecting sculptural spectrums in terms of martial identities, material cultures and architectures: from abstract to naturalistic, fantastical to historical, militaristic to pacifist forms. Explore other examples on this blog.
I will now leave you with a shared feature of these sculptures: unquestionably unintended, and perhaps a humble way to subvert the art’s glorification of martial identities, they are very good for selfies: