The first.

By Garth Evans.

This is the first sculpture I ever made. It is a carving. This sculpture contains the seeds of much that I have done in the sixty-four years since I made it, although I never made another carving.

It is about twelve inches in hight, the wood is oak. I made it at the Manchester School of Art in 1955. I had gone to art school after leaving the air force the previous year. In the air force I had served as a mechanic in Hong Kong for almost two years. While I was away my father had died. He was just of forty-eight years old. He made a living as a sculptor working for a partnership in Manchester. As a ten year old boy I had watched his magic, transforming stone, making it to all appearances into cloth, skin, leather, hair. He was a highly skilled carver in both wood and stone. My father was gifted and as a young man had ambitions to be a serious and important artist.

I was guided in making this carving by one of the teachers at Manchester, Ted Roocroft. I thought the subject was Cain and Able, fighting. My older brother and myself. I was wrong! The relationship between the two figures is ambiguous. At first glance the figure on the left appears to be collapsing and being held up by the figure on the right but it is possible that the figure on the right is forcing the other figure to the ground. One can also see the figure on the left as attempting to lift the figure on the right.

I did not think very highly of this carving when I made it. I would probably have abandoned it. It did not meet my expectations, it seemed weak, slightly pathetic and lacking the vigor and energy I had aimed for. But my mother liked it and she kept it. She kept it for the next fifty years. I have it now and I am grateful to my mother for having seen what I could not.

After I had left Manchester, when I would go home and see the carving again, I began to recognize the fact that there is little to indicate that the two figures are struggling with each other and to understand this as the source of my disappointment with the work. The relationship between them is tender, not hostile.

I am not sure how long it was before I fully understood that the subject of this carving is the return of the prodigal son. It is hardly surprising that, by doing what my father had been so good at, carving, in a place where my father had once gone to evening class, even using his tools, I would be yearning for a reunion with my dead father. Nor is it surprising that, at the time, it was too painful for me to be alert to this – I have to be thankful that my hands were not blind. 

Cyril, my father, carving.

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