As an undergraduate art student, Meadows went to work in the studio of Britain’s preeminent sculptor, Henry Moore, who taught him the usefulness of working on preliminary drawings and the processes of direct carving. Many of Meadows’s early sculptures are in the vein of Moore’s smoothly hewn Surrealist figural style. Meadows volunteered for the Royal Air Force during World War II and was stationed first in India, then Ceylon, and finally in the remote Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean. The wildlife there became a major inspiration for the sculptures of crabs and birds that preoccupied the artist through the 1950s. These animals served as “human substitutes,” he explained, “vehicles [for] expressing my feelings about human beings.”
During a trip to Italy in 1960, Meadows studied Renaissance statues of Roman generals and combatants donning heavy armor and weapons. The contrast of vulnerability and violence in these works seemed to capture the anxious mood of that moment, where major powers were locked in a cycle of perpetual defense and threat. These statues inspired Meadows to execute a series of twenty armor-clad figures he described as “aggressive, protected, but inside the safety of the shell, they are completely soft and vulnerable.”
Augustus refers to the Roman emperor who oversaw a period of peace, the Pax Romana, during his rule from 27 BCE to 14 CE. The sculpture depicts an abstracted human figure with an abbreviated head and arms. The bulk of the figure is a torso wearing a shield of armor that has been cracked apart, an indication of the hardships faced during his reign. “I have become interested in the tragedy of damaged figures,” Meadows said around the time he created Augustus. In contrast to heroic depictions of Roman leaders, Meadows’s Augustus is transformed into a symbol for the anxiety of the postwar period.
Location: JON Building, Second Floor Landing