28 Sep Preservation Series: The Red Army
As you walk down the sculpture path, a blur of red appears through the trees and you may ask yourself, “What is that?”. The 900-some odd, thin, metal men and women that make up The Red Army have quite an impact on our visitors. We are constantly fielding the question (without a concrete answer) “What does it mean?”.
Ray Smith, the artist, is probably the only person who could answer that question. Born in 1949 in London, he is both a painter and a sculptor. His sculptural works are largely urban or public commissions. Smith is well known for his contributions to children’s institutions, particularly schools and hospitals, and has authored two children’s books.
Ray Smith’s work is also present at art festivals. The National Garden Festival at Gateshead is where The Red Army first made its appearance. To give some insight into his thought process on The Red Army he is quoted below discussing the piece.
“I wanted to fill a site, a plain surrounded by grassy banks, with a work that emphasized its scale, making it seem more vast. I drew some figures with upraised arms and realized the ambiguity in the gesture, variously interpreted as joy or celebration, defiance or terror. The work can allude to various particular historical or political events or broader, less specific references. From several hundred figures painted rapidly with a Chinese brush and ink, I selected four figures, two women and two men, which formed the models for the cut-outs. Leaning back at a slight angle, the figures give a more dynamic sweep to the work, without necessarily pushing the interpretation in a particular direction.
I chose a cool, deep red as an appropriate complement to the surrounding greenery. The color has other associations which would be appropriate to a particular reading of the work.”
The Red Army then “crossed the pond” when Lord Palumbo chose to purchase the piece and bring it to Kentuck Knob. The orientation of the piece on our site has much the same feel as is described in his quote. In fact, guests seem to innately understand the duality of the celebration and terror interpretation and how both feelings are evoked.
Today, after years of weathering, The Red Army is decidedly less red. The paint is lifting away revealing bare steel underneath as well as bits of rust. We have turned our sights and our conservation efforts to this important part of our collection. The large quantity of the figures, which stand nearly six feet when lifted out of the ground, makes for a daunting and time consuming conservation process.
A few questions we asked when deciding how to conserve the piece:
1. Should we have it repainted or leave the paint to fall off naturally?
2. Should we remove all of paint and let it rust naturally?
We decided to remove the paint through the process of sandblasting and then repainting the pieces in order to bring back the red in The Red Army. We are pleased to have found a local, large-scale sandblasting company to work on this project with us. A primary concern in deciding on this course of action was how long the the paint will last. Our concerns were alleviated when we learned the paint to be used was similar to that used on industrial metal and has a longer life than traditional metal paints.
We hope to have the piece completed and re-sited by 2017. Follow our social media channels for updates on the progress of The Red Army.