#VolunteerVoice: Tennyson and the Giant

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Posted 16th August 2018

Tennyson and the Giant

A Face-Off in the Sculpture Gallery

This silent event is a quiet highlight of the James Henry Pullen exhibition currently showing at Watts Gallery Artists' Village.

Pullen, who was deaf and hardly spoke a word, spent 70 years in an asylum. There, in his workshop, he created amazing, fantastical model boats and a giant puppet. Pullen's Giant took ten years to complete. It is thought to have been constructed not only to be guardian of the artist's workshop but also as the artist's alter-ego. Pullen's extraordinary body of work created in such unusual circumstances underlines the resilience of the artist within and the existence of innate creativity. I would highly recommend a visit.

The curatorial decision to place the Giant not, as one might expect, in the Gallery next to Pullen's model boats and drawings but in the adjacent Gallery alongside Watts's Physical Energy and Tennyson really pays off. Everything suddenly comes alive! I'm reminded of Ben Stiller's role as the night watchman in New York's Natural History Museum when all the exhibits come to life at night. Having said that, the horse and rider don't seem particularly interested in the newcomer. Tennyson, however, is clearly intrigued and the two works stand eye ball to eye ball. Tennyson extends his hand and shows the Giant the tiny flower which holds the key to all understanding.

'Little flower – but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all.
I should know what God and man is.'
(Tennyson, 1869)

The Giant could counter with words from Pullen's own poem in the mouth of his Moon sculpture.

'Oh, this moon is cloudy smoky rain
See moon cry want grandfather
Shine the moon and keep the cloud away
Bright the eye to see Earlswood Asylum'
(Pullen, 1900)

However, perhaps more likely would be a show of clenched fists, a spin of the head, a tongue waggle and a loud screech! Both works are richer and more intense by virtue of standing alongside their opposite. The strong red/black block colours of the Giant's uniform contrast perfectly with Tennyson's matt grey plaster realism. The crazier and more comic-like the Giant becomes, the calmer and more stoic Tennyson appears.

And that's during daylight hours… I wonder what happens at night!

See you in the Gallery!

Anne Jewkes
Volunteer at Watts Gallery Artists' Village

See Pullen's Giant in James Henry Pullen: Inmate - Inventor - Genius, on display until Sunday 28 October.

Upcoming Exhibitions & Displays

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