Bill Woodrow RA, Fingerswarm, 2000. Photo: RA/Paul Highnam © The Artist

Object of the Month - August 2017


Bill Woodrow RA, Fingerswarm, 2000

Bill Woodrow RA held a swarm of bees on his bare hand at a beekeeping course, sparking the idea for his surreal sculpture, Fingerswarm: a swarm of bees surmounting three fingers. Woodrow explains the title is a deliberate pun: '"Finger-swarm" is "Fingers-warm". It works because there are three fingers not just one'.

The surface of the swarm of bees in Fingerswarm is covered in gold leaf. Woodrow made the form with the imprint of a single bee shape. He first created the overall pear shape and made a mould of it, lining the mould with plasticine. He carved a bee and imprinted this repeatedly into the plasticine, so the negative shape of bees covered the surface. When this was cast in bronze, the swarm of bees emerged.

The three supporting 'legs' are in fact fingers. They represent Woodrow's original inspiration for the piece when, on a beekeeping course the instructor put a swarm of bees on his hand. He said 'it was an amazing experience because this large swarm just hung on my hand. It wasn't in any way dangerous or aggressive because the bees were just interested to be around the queen in the middle of the swarm and nothing else. It was incredibly light and there was this slight movement that you could just feel on your skin and there was this constant temperature. It was a very light, delicate touch. There was something fabulous about having this thing on your hand and that experience stuck with me'.

One of the fingers is placed in a bowl of wax, signifying honey. The artist describes 'the wax is sort of a substitute at this point for the produce of this hive. If honey was as stable as wax, I possibly would have used it. Wax is also a natural produce of the hive. It's to do with that symbiotic relationship. We look after the bees, supply them with a shelter and support, and in return for this we farm some of their produce. Fingerswarm makes reference to this relationship. The hand is both supporting and taking - it's a two-way thing'.

Bill Woodrow RA's Fingerswarm is part of a new display of sculpture curated by Richard Deacon RA on The Dame Jillian Sackler Sculpture Gallery. The selection includes sculpture from Royal Academicians spanning over 200 years. The earliest work from 1768 is Thomas Banks RA's The Falling Titan, which shows the earthbound giant tumbling down a mountain while a tiny satyr and two goats flee. The most recent work is Rebecca Warren RA's hand-painted bronze Sieben, a slender, totem-like figure hinting at body parts and a shoe. Other highlights include sculpture by Lord Leighton PRA, John Gibson RA, Sir Anthony Caro RA and Lynn Chadwick RA.