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Hand with Chronos, Stoke Railway Station


Hand with Chronos, Stoke Railway Station - by Vincent Woropay
Hand with Chronos, Stoke Railway Station - by Vincent Woropay
situated at the end of platform 2 at Stoke-on-Trent Railway Station

Originally commissioned by British Rail for the 1990 National Garden Festival at Gateshead


a view of the sculpture from platform 1


Vincent Woropay, Hand with Chronos (detail)
Vincent Woropay, Hand with Chronos (detail) 

Originally commissioned for the National Garden Festival at Gateshead in 1990, this small figure stands on the open palm of a large upright hand. He is shown with the head of a lion, a snake wrapped around his body, and a pair of small wings sprouting from his hips. He holds a short staff and a key.

Hans Holbein the Younger's Allegory of Time (which appears as the frontispiece to Johann Eck's Deprimatupetri (1521, Paris) shows a similar figure with a snake wrapped around his body, albeit one with three heads -those of a dog and a wolf as well as that of a lion. These three heads allude to past, present and future. 

In Woropay's work, the inclusion of the lion head alone suggests that, in the modern age, mankind is concerned only with the present, with scant regard for his past and little thought for his future. 

However,  by its reference to fragments of antique classical sculpture, the large hand cupping the figure conveys the idea that he is in reality a product of his past. Similarly, while the wings sprouting from his hips suggest freedom, the snake wound round his body conveys the idea of entrapment. 

Far from being free, mankind is limited by his time and place in history. The juxtaposition of the large hand and the small figure recalls some of De Chirico's works, with all their uncanny qualities.




detail of the enclosing fingers
detail of the enclosing fingers

"What he [Woropay] understood was the gravitas of sculpture, and he worked consciously on this with his big hands - creating even bigger hands, gigantic ones such as Hand With Kronos (national garden festival, Gateshead, 1990, and now at Stoke-on-Trent railway station)"


Stoke-on-Trent Railway Station
Stoke-on-Trent Railway Station 

Vincent Woropay, sculptor, born December 4 1951; died June 12 2002

The sculptures of Vincent Woropay, who has died aged 50 of cancer of the thorax, are both arresting and thought-provoking. They give material form to a fluidity between reality and imagination more usually associated with language and literature.

Born of Polish parents in London, Woropay moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1964, but returned to London to complete his schooling at the Salesian College in Battersea. After a bout of saxophone playing, he studied sculpture at Brighton Polytechnic from 1974 to 1977, and at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, from 1977 to 1979.

As a fellow at the British school in Rome in 1981, he pioneered the idea that sculpture could be brought about through the solidification of a void. His piece for the building's entrance hall, The Suffering Clay, was the interior of that hall made solid, but scaled down: as much smaller than the artist as the artist was smaller than the hall. Made of gilded wood, the object that resulted from this compressed inversion resembled a precious coffer that would forever defy attempts to open it.

This was clearly the result of a poetic impulse, a way of sculpting in metaphor, and Woropay was unusual among contemporaries in his field for this literary emphasis. Certain works, such as Parole reali (Real Words, 1984) have a specific narrative attached, in this case the story of King Idanthyrsus sending the mighty Darius a frog, a mouse, a bird, a ploughshare and a bow. The narrative is realised in a sequence of bronze objects as enigmatic as the message that informed the gift itself.

For Woropay, sculpture was an alchemical process. What mattered, finally, was the aura the work generated rather than its meaning, although the work might be a compound of phrases from history, from the language of forms, from science or from literature. It was this that made evenings at the house he shared with Chloe Chard, whom he met in Rome, intoxicating in many varied ways; Chloe being an enthusiast of the grand tour, and as deeply read in literature as Vincent was steeped in esoterica.

What he understood was the gravitas of sculpture, and he worked consciously on this with his big hands - creating even bigger hands, gigantic ones such as Hand With Kronos (national garden festival, Gateshead, 1990, and now at Stoke-on-Trent railway station). After so much modern abstraction, he restored to his art the integrity of the natural object in its own right, rescuing it also from the brashness of pop art, although he always threaded a vein of humour through his pieces.

Woropay isolated fragments. In Patagon (1985), the foot and ankle of a Patagonian giant on the ridge of a wooded hill, overlooks Powis Castle, mid-Wales, as articulately as Shelley spoke for the ruined Ozymandias.

The same could be said for Capo, made in 1986 for the national garden festival, Stoke-on-Trent. This is a colossal head of Josiah Wedgewood carved out of extra-large bricks, but, like a slave by Michelangelo, never quite emerging from the material. It makes one feel that Wedgewood must still be something of an edifice in the potteries, and then leads one to think about clay - how one bit ends up in the Victoria and Albert Musem and another in a civic wall.

Capo, made in 1986 for the national garden festival, Stoke-on-Trent. 
This is a colossal head of Josiah Wedgewood 

more on the sculpture of Josiah Wedgwood

Woropay used the pictorial architecture of Giorgio De Chirico to create arches with a perspectival distortion, thus making the imaginary physi cal. He would work in a material for the sake of its name: alabaster, for example, is a lovely word redolent of poetry.

His art was an attempt to capture what is fleeting, by, for instance, "gilding" a cloud, or to suggest the passing of the monumental - his solemn but elliptical urn (Giddier Gloom, 1984) being but a three-dimensional illusion with, perhaps, a brass frond underneath it. Woropay could use discrepancy and inversion to advantage.

He and Chloe travelled widely, as on their trips to Egypt in 1987 and Zambia in 1990. Each visit stimulated a response in his practice. At the same time, the objects chosen evolved. In New Zealand, he created a monumental rabbit virus (NRSV, Mutating, 1997) and presented boulders with minimal intervention (Surface 1 and Surface 2, 1999).

With each year, too, the work was becoming more fluid, more assured and more his own. There are later pieces which are simply kneadings - matter moulded and then coated with soot or dipped into silver. They emerge enigmatic, but rich in allusion, as he worked through an imaginary agenda akin to the invented history and geography of the Scienza Nuova, by Giambattista Vico, an author high in his estimation. It was from that 1721 account of the rise and fall of civilisations that the idea of the Patagonian giant came.

By stretching boundaries and dissolving categories, while submitting his work to the rigour of a necessary simplicity, Woropay fused romantic and classic impulses. There is no doubt that, in his discriminating way, he had more to tell us about the transient nature of existence. For his family, his friends and his admirers, his own existence has proved all too transient.

Chloe survives him.

The Guardian Newspaper 5 July 2002



contents: 2010 photos