Reach For The Heavens

Giles Chapman, OCTANE, 2016

The Latin inscription on Sir Christopher Wren’s tomb in St Paul’s Cathedral urges the reader to look around if you want to see his monument. That’s all you need to do at the Goodwood Festival Of Speed for an insight into artist Gerry Judah.

Every year, his sculptures swoop and tower and gleam over proceedings, and then they are gone. If you don’t see it in ‘the metal’ over that one weekend, then you never will.

“Yeah, this year’s was an extraordinarily physical presence,” Gerry says, rocking back in a paint-spattered swivel chair in his north London studio. “But you build it and then you rip it down. I’m not precious about that because I worked in film and TV for years, where everything is temporary. Actually, I like it: it makes the ideas stronger than the actual things.”

Gerry first met the Earl of March when the Goodwood heir was plain Charles Settrington, photographer. He was one of many 1970s and ‘80s creative types, David Bailey, Terence Donovan and pop video pioneers Godley & Creme among them, who wanted his input as a set designer, backdrop visionary and model-maker.

“I knew he was some sort of aristocrat, but we all worked equally, we were all just looking for ideas and making films and photos together. No reliance on computers – just direct collaboration. It was later that he tracked me down to make a triumphal arch for Goodwood, and I realised there were these wonderful structures we could make with the actual cars themselves.

“Museums have to trust you, and that level of trust is quite extraordinarily humbling. Their cars are worth millions of pounds and just to be allowed to whack them upside down high in the air and in all kinds of weather is incredible. The work has to soar, and I want it to anyway. It’s got to work well in the space, make people say ‘Oh, my God’ because it’s about the power of sculpture mixed with motor sport. It appears and looks cavalier but, of course, that’s not how we approach it.”

The artist describes to me the physical creation of his Goodwood sculptures, including the cutting process in Sheffield and the fabrication in a huge yard in Littlehampton. From Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo to Audi and Jaguar, all the key sponsors have had their priceless racing icons suspended in the sky by Gerry. He recalls the orgy of ideas needed to find something that BMW felt hit home. And the Mazda exhibit where the mashed-up creative process started with the design of a 1962 Enzo Mari letter opener, and finished with Gerry’s shifting, twisting skyscraper of metal beams, with a Le Mans car dangling off its peak.

“Suddenly the aspirations of the client and the twisting form gelled together, the sense of wonder and danger that has to be in a Goodwood cantilever.”

Gerry Judah has a steady intensity that beams straight at you when he talks, but then, as I’m absorbing his words, he unexpectedly lightens up.

“You know what, with a big sculpture, I sometimes think I can do it in an armchair. I mean, you start with a concept, something which doesn’t resonate with anything you’ve done before, and then it gels, it has some meat in it. I can be driving down the motorway, suddenly get an idea, stop in a lay-by, sketch it on the scrappiest bit of paper in the car, snap it on my iPhone, email it to Bruno – the engineer I work with in Sheffield – and five hours later a computer drawing comes my way. Because at this point, it’s all about the geometry, getting four or five lines into how it works. That’s all done with computers and phone calls and only [italic]then[italic] do you get down to sketching models, cutting up cardboard, plastic, plaster, resin, whatever, so you can make it work in 3D.”

Gerry says: “My beginning, middle and end is sculpture”. He also claims to be somewhat the itinerant artist because he’s changed his work and his studio location frequently since graduating in Fine Art from London’s Goldsmiths College in 1975, and then studying sculpture at the Slade.

His portfolio and list of exhibition is enormous, but as he became more established, bolder and less reliant on working for other people, the story started to serve the work, instead of the inverse. “I’m a project artist, and too much of an egotist, so I like to blaze my own trail,” he shrugs. From scouring London’s skips for waste wood to de-nail for John Napier’s acclaimed theatre set for [italic]Nicholas Nickleby[italic], he has turned to complex, three-dimensional paintings that often draw on turning points in history.

The Imperial War Museum asked him to create a model of the dreaded ‘selection ramp’ at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp for its [italic]Holocaust Exhibition[italic] and another work, called [italic]Crusader[italic], a cross-shaped, hung-askew emblem of war causing human suffering.

“I took the white cross from war graves as the symbol, and I embellished it with contemporary war zones – Aleppo, Baghdad, Homs. Because 100 years after the First World War, the carve-up of the Ottoman empire, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, all of it, we’ve ended up still fighting the same conflicts in the Middle East. They’re on the same fault lines, about the same issues. It’s not over. We’ve got stop fighting these conflicts.”

Some smaller variations on this acutely painful theme were produced for Gerry’s local church. They came to the attention of Canon Mark Oakley of St Paul’s Cathedral, no less, who, as Gerry says “liked the energy”. He suggested there’d be space on the wall of the nave there for Gerry’s work if it could commemorate the Second World War in a similarly compelling way.

“I couldn’t believe it. I immediately thought I’d like to do something specific for it. I hit the ground running and had an idea for the Crucifix with them within two weeks. And they said yes, let’s do it.”

With Christopher Wren’s notional, quizzical, all-pervading approval, Gerry cleared his studio floor to make the piece. The organised frenzy the sculptor outlines is darkly impressive.

“I started making maquettes, developing it, cutting, pasting, painting. It’s a steel armature clad in cardboard and plaster. All the buildings were accurately-designed, computer cut-out and then glued on. And then I smashed them up. I painted the wreckage with acrylic gesso – a mix of plaster and paint that I make myself – and fused it all into the canvas.” Installed in 2014, St Paul’s shows no sign of wanting to take it down. Visitors continue to be gripped by it.

The studio has witnessed several more of these three-dimensional paintings reflecting environmental catastrophes and conflicts. Sometimes the destroyed cityscapes, blitzed architect’s models packed with tiny exposed stairwells and blasted-open lift shafts, take two years to complete.

“I build them and smash them on the canvas, and then glue them back together as detritus while adding new details like water towers. Then I smash them up again and then I build another city on top.” Bucolic they are not; the power of devastation is all-consuming.

Gerry’s newest work is differently discomfiting. The charity Christian Aid took him to Calcutta, West Bengal to look at its projects around climate change – trying to overcome the drought and corruption that relentlessly hold poverty.

“It was where I was born and grew up. It’s hard to take, and I’m doing a series of sculptures based on my visit. They are all rickshaws with different structures on them – power stations, pylons, temples made from ash and polluted materials that reflect the legacy and the future. They’re lashed together as they would be in real life in India. They don’t rely on technology, just whatever they can find and put together. And that’s what I’ve done.”

Jane Morrow, Curator of the influential Wolverhampton Art Gallery summed them up: “These intricate, fragile and colourful works reflect the beauty of India amongst its degradation,”

Gerry is only vaguely interested in cars, emphatic only in his view that modern cars are hideous and samey because of the need to pack them with technology. “We’ve accustomed ourselves to these ugly objects on our streets – we’ve adapted our eyes rather than objected.

“But, then, I’m not a petrolhead. I want to just keep making stuff, and I’m not answerable to anyone when I’m working; dealing with uncompromising materials and trying to bend them towards my will – constantly in collaboration and confrontation with them.”

Prescient Landscapes and Fragile Architectures

Hadani Ditmars, Wasafiri, March 2016

As someone who writes about both visual culture and current affairs, the week of my interview with artist Gerry Judah in September 2015 was a whirlwind. The Syrian refugee crisis had reached a peak and a photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach sparked both global awareness of an ongoing tragedy and debate about the power of the image as catalyst.

Much had transpired since 2012 when I had last talked with the London-based, Kolkata-born artist – whose grandparents came from Baghdad and were part of its once vibrant Jewish community – both in the world and in Judah’s ongoing artistic journey. The trajectory of Gerry Judah’s art has encompassed major social themes ranging from war in the Middle East to climate change in South Asia as well as more general allusions to displacement, loss, erosion and rebirth. His work spans, with equal élan and intensity, larger than life sculptures and paintings that are stylised maquettes cantilevering off canvases — models of fragile architecture and ravaged cities that he creates and then destroys.

Since we last met in 2012, some fifty million souls were now refugees – the worst humanitarian crisis of its kind since World War Two – while environmental disasters have become an undeniable reality. Transnational migrations and climate issues have made fortress mentalities seem even more absurd and Judah’s work, channelling Middle Eastern war zones and drought-ravaged Indian villages, even more resonant.

As I sought points of aesthetic and social reference, I arrived at a mild epiphany; while photojournalism (like the terrible, powerful, exploited image of the drowned boy) is arguably suited to social media, there is something akin to deep journalism inherent in Judah’s striking architectural canvases and sculptures. (It’s not surprising that many war zone journalists like Bob Fisk are great fans and collectors.) His work discourages casual voyeurism and demands an engagement from the viewer, a commitment to considering situational nuance. Judah’s powerful tableaus suggesting war-ravaged cities like Baghdad and Beirut and his recent work on climate change in South Asia mirror the connections being made by, for example, Canadian author Naomi Klein and Guardian writer Craig Bennett between war, displacement and environmental disasters — such as the correlation of a long-running drought in Syria to the origins of its current civil war.

The more I reflected on Judah’s work, the more I appreciated not only its relevance but its prescience: from dystopian maquettes painted in the stark relief of white gesso, his ode to the European Sykes–Picot Agreement (in Judah’s view one of the origins of today’s Middle Eastern conflicts) which hangs like sacred performance art in St Paul’s cathedral and his cruciform Crusader series. Long before mainstream media made the link between war and climate change, displacement and disaster capitalism, Judah was, perhaps even unconsciously, channelling this connection through his art. His work bears an uncanny kinship with the dystopian films of the 1970s, whose ‘sci-fi’ predictions of mass homelessness, food shortages and environmental ruin (Soylent Green [1973] spring to mind or the stark all-white totalitarian high-tech landscapes of George Lucas’s THX 1138 [1971]) have come terribly true. It’s almost as if Judah had a series of premonitory visions of what life would be like in 2015 and called them into aesthetic being.

With his background as a designer for stage and film as well as his training as a draughtsman, there is something both cinematic and architectural about Judah’s work. He creates mini-sets, microcosms of imagined yet all too real worlds that are riveting psychic landscapes, foreign yet familiar. In many ways they are reminiscent of Victorian miniatures or dynamic dioramas which have been re-imagined for a modern world. In that world where horrific images of dead refugee children, beheadings and destruction of ancient sites compete for our overwhelmed attention in what Judah terms ‘media wars’, he chooses to work with all white gesso, as a unifying and calming coat of equanimity.

When he worked on his Auschwitz commission for the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in 2000, Judah employed all white gesso ‘so as not to stain it in any way or give it shadowing’. Rather than ‘give it detail’, his aim was for an overall ‘shimmer’ to the piece, offering a brief moment of transcendence and vision even in the midst of horror. A few years later, when Judah saw photos of the destruction of the Jenin refugee camp in Palestine, he notes ‘the eeriest thing was that everything was covered in white dust, almost like a textured painting’. Similarly, after the 2006 Israeli bombing of Beirut, he saw the images of the ruins as a ‘unified landscape of white dust’ and made the connection between ‘the Jewish experience of being a victim and the Israeli reality of being a perpetrator of destruction’. From this was born his Angels series featuring aerial views of wrecked buildings shown in surprisingly delicate relief: ‘White can reveal the intensity of a place in a way that black cannot,’ notes the artist.

While his 2005 Jenin inspired series Frontiers was about peeling away facades to reveal the detritus of daily life, his Beirut-based work was about bombs from far away destroying buildings — a perspective with a certain verticality he also referenced in his 2010 work ‘Crusader’ (commissioned by the Imperial War Museum), which evoked the damage caused by predator drones and other forms of aerial bombardment.

The scale of Judah’s Baghdad inspired series – Motherlands (2007) and Babylon (2009) – offers a different perspective. Apart from a few Tower of Babel references, the series is evocative of Baghdad’s status as a horizontal city of low-rises. It was ‘like Tel Aviv,’ notes Judah, ‘very Bauhaus, very modern.’ In contrast to earlier works, this series is looser, more painterly and textured, less maquette-like.

Despite the influence of war zones on his work, Judah firmly rejects any association with the tradition of ‘war art’ and has no pretence of using his work instrumentally to make political statements. Rather, he sees himself as someone who is observing and reacting ‘using what’s going on in the world to develop myself as an artist.’

‘You become a bit of a magpie,’ muses Judah, ‘Like Warhol when he did prints of car crashes, destroyed places and electric chairs. He was using that to advance his language as an artist — not to save the world. As an artist you’re naturally exploitative — using situations for the sake of your art, I have to be honest with myself and not too precious. I mean, even as I was making an installation of Auschwitz in my studio and feeling all that that entailed, I was sipping espresso and listening to reggae music — that’s how the creative process works.’

Judah is no dilettante and possesses a consistently strong visual language that combines the power of Goya with the assemblage of Rauschenberg. In many ways Judah’s works are artistic battle sites in their own right. His methods include brutalising the canvasses, literally blowing up his maquettes in the studio and otherwise roughing them up. ‘Look, even Turner,’ says Judah, ‘would spit on his canvasses and throw fat onto them — all to get that “shimmer”.’

Transcendent Turnerian light aside, there is also a resonance with the work of exiled Iraqi artist Hannah Mallalah who slashes and burns her canvasses that speak to the psychic and actual ruin of her homeland. But beyond this clear engagement with geopolitical themes, Judah says his goal is fundamentally to ‘further the language of painting.’ His canvasses also become, ‘my own, private war zones — they are about me as much as they are about the places.’

Indeed, while the young Judah turned to art as a way to transcend his lower-middle-class immigrant experiences in grim post-war England, his work is mainly about places he has an ancestral or personal connection to. ‘You can never really escape yourself as an artist,’ he laughs, ‘no matter how hard you try.’ He recalls a pivotal moment in his creative development when he was a young student at Goldsmiths College, University of London (where Damien Hirst later studied) and had a great interest in Jung and the collective unconscious. One day in the studio he found himself obsessively engaged in making something in an almost automatic fashion. ‘I built a cone on wheels and called it a sukkah,’ he relates. Later on he went to the reading room at the British Museum where he saw images of Mesopotamian structures that resembled his own creation and felt he had tapped into ‘a genetic visual memory of my forefathers.’

As the wars in what was once Mesopotamia continue to spiral out of control, Judah’s most recent work combines urgency and elegance, transcendence and gravitas. Commissioned to commemorate the centenary of World War One in 2014, twin cruciform sculptures angle like alien angels towards the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Moreover, at a moment when red poppies covering the Tower of London spoke to traditionalism and nostalgia, Judah chose a more explicitly geopolitical stance. ‘World War One was a time when the Ottoman Empire was carved up by the European powers … and I wanted to show the connection between that history and what’s going on in the Middle East today.’

Judah sees the ‘Arab spring’ and its aftermath as a series of ‘power struggles — trying to tear down the old powers created by the Sykes-Picot agreement’ (the post-World War One division of the Middle East by the French and the British). And so Judah succinctly transformed Flanders Fields’ crosses into eloquent requiems for Iraq and Syria, with wrecked architecture inspired by Aleppo and Baghdad piled up on top of cruciform structures. He contemporised the legacy of 1918, reminding us that the war is not over and has, in fact, been going on for some time.

While the St Paul’s works are cousins to the Crusader series he created for the Imperial War Museum in 2010, Judah chose not to name them as such for fear of being too prescriptive. ‘I didn’t want to tell people what to think about them,’ he explains, ‘but rather have them interpret the work in a very personal way.’ Nevertheless, he admits to having been inspired by George Bush’s comments about a ‘crusade’ against ‘terrorism’ and wanted to show, by virtue of a site-specific work in England’s most important cathedral, that ‘the holy war is still alive.’ At the foot of the works, crater-like windows reveal cathedral walls, imbuing each piece with a powerful sense of place.

In these cruciform pieces Judah chose to use models of ruined tower blocks to suggest a universal symbol of conflict. ‘I wanted to make the architecture global,’ he relates, and therefore studiously avoided visual references to mosques, for example. The tower block, he maintains, is also a symbol of the crisis of modernity and could evoke the buildings destroyed in 9/11. ‘I wanted to show that everything is vulnerable, breakable, temporary.’ For some viewers, he suggests, the destroyed infrastructure might represent an economically depressed, abandoned town in the Midlands. It could even be read as a representation of the ‘great war on the environment,’ with cities destroyed by climate change or earthquakes such as in Haiti and Nepal or tsunami-struck Japan.

His latest series of works, commissioned by Christian Aid and Arts Council England, are influenced by a visit to Bengal, India in 2012. They continue to foreground the fragility of the human condition but also literally speak to the balancing act of contemporary existence. Rickety rusted rickshaws impossibly bear upside down mango trees – uprooted by drought – ancient temples and even power stations. In a way we are all perched precariously on these rickshaws, juggling tradition and modernity, faith and technology as we peddle ever faster for survival, trying hard to stay human.

The themes of displacement and the temporal nature of things which Judah has addressed in previous works continue to be explored in this series. For him, the climate change inspired work also combined a return to his childhood home — he was born in Kolkata before post-Independence political turmoil forced his family (originally from Baghdad) to migrate to England when he was ten years old. Growing up in a thriving Jewish community, Judah did not fail to be influenced by Kolkata’s rich mosaic of culture — at his Jewish school his curriculum included the study of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. He also remembers the colourful sukkahs – temporary huts with roofs of leaves or vegetation – created for the Jewish autumnal Feast of Tabernacles: ‘They made these incredible tabernacles, decorated with hanging fruits and illuminated by fairy lights, in the middle of a field,’ he recalls, ‘there were these beautiful, long autumnal nights where you would eat and drink and meet your friends and neighbours. In many ways this was my first introduction to theatre and to installation art.’ This was quite a contrast to the sukkah he encountered when the family moved to England in 1961 — ‘a little booth behind your living room where you went outside until it started raining again.’

Another strong visual memory from his Indian childhood is of travelling on the school bus through the slums of Kolkata and seeing dead bodies on the ground. Ten years after the partition of British India, violence still erupted between Hindus and Muslims – ‘the local cinema was burned to the ground a dozen times,’ remembers Judah – and, in spite of his more idyllic memories, Kolkata was a low-level war zone.

By happenstance, it was autumn when Judah travelled to Bengal in 2012 and Kolkata was in the midst of the Durga Puja festival and the temporary shrines known as pandals resonated strongly with the artist. ‘They were just like the sukkahs I remember from my childhood,’ he relates. While Jewish ritual in synagogues doesn’t depend on visual stimulus and is quite the opposite of the Hindu aesthetic, there is an intriguing connection between the two harvest festivals. Playing with the idea of temporary structures and transient architecture, Judah produced a series of wooden sculptures painted to look like rusted iron that are actually maquettes for large-scale pieces he hopes to create for public spaces so that they can become ‘part of the fabric of villages and towns.’ One of his proposals is for a large-scale Orissian temple to be made of ash or, as he calls it, ‘burnt, polluted earth.’ He sees his sculptures as ‘pieces of theatre’ that best inhabit the public realm rather than the living room wall. He adds ‘I want my work to inhabit public spaces, not just private collections, so people can read into them what they choose. I don’t want to be too prescriptive or dogmatic.’ Rather, he wants the viewer to ‘connect emotionally’ with his work. He refuses simple documentarianism in favour of a nuanced approach that also references his personal journey back to a lost homeland rather than a literalist presentation on climate change in India.

In a new incarnation of his 1993 work for Amnesty International that featured dozens of tiny ancient shrines with votive candles, he produced a Bengal inspired piece featuring hundreds of candles on outstretched wing-like archetypal structures. ‘The candle is a universal symbol,’ he notes, ‘it’s in my Jewish tradition but also in Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist cultures.’

Judah’s return to Kolkata was an odd sort of time travel for the artist. In spite of a fifty year lag since his last visit, on one level he says, ‘it felt like nothing had changed. There was the same light, same heat, same ambience, smells and intensity.’ He remembered, from his childhood, even the same sweet shops and chai houses. ‘It was as if my old neighbourhood was at a standstill and yet the whole world had changed.’ Now devoid of the once thriving Jewish community, the two neighbourhood synagogues have become state museums cared for by Muslims and, in spite of the arrival of the internet and mobile phones, people still use old technologies and heating methods. But the ever-present gulf between rich and poor has become a chasm thanks to climate change issues like rampant pollution and drought. New images were presented now — mangroves with roots curling up into the air, pieces of land eroding away, flooded villages. After touring ravaged landscapes in Bengal where the charity Christian Aid works with rural communities, Judah was moved to produce his upside-down mangrove tree artwork. Using copper for the roots, a material that suggests water pipes, there’s also a sense of flames of fire in this work that speaks to global warming.

What really struck Judah on his return, however, was not only the cheek by jowl existence of wealth and poverty that recalled Victorian England, but the relatively peaceful coexistence of multiple social and technological layers. On the roads he encountered a whole pantheon of human, animal and vehicular movement – ‘rickshaws, cars, cyclists, cows’ – that seemed to coalesce in uncanny synchrony. ‘There was this feeling everywhere I went in Bengal,’ says Judah, ‘of things just being hastily strung together — but somehow it all worked.’ Perhaps this is why – although his new Bengal work is still devoid of human representation – there is a much more palpable sense of presence here rather than the tangible absence of his war zone series.

A coal-fired, smoke-belching power station where workers still used cow dung as fuel became the inspiration for a sculpture in which an entire power station is perched on a rickshaw, its chimneys in their own way like travelling tabernacles. Or are they industrial cross-cultural sukkahs or even mini theme park pandals celebrating Durga Puja? The lines blur and the maquettes often take on a playful sensibility perhaps inspired by Judah’s childhood memories.

One work from the Bengal series – and a rare one in his oeuvre – features a suggestion of the human figure. A Hindu temple – designed with a certain universality to also suggest a Sephardic synagogue or mosque even – perched on a rickshaw contains the profile of the artist’s face. It seems to speak to the collective memory in his very DNA. Like the sukkah Judah recalls in his childhood synagogue in Kolkata, it suggests a world in flux yet tied to history, at once transient and eternal.

As Judah tells me of his family’s migration from Iraq to India to England, I relate that when my Syrian Christian great-grandparents arrived after an arduous journey fleeing Ottoman-era oppression to a First Nations Canadian Pacific fishing village in a far flung corner of the British Empire, their travel documents were stamped Asiatic. As borders and hyphenated nationalities blur, as continents get redefined by shifting empires and human migration reaches a peak, I ask Judah if he still on some level feels displaced. He replies, ‘One thing you learn in life — wherever you make your home is not permanent. Someone else will come and you will move on. You have to make wherever you are work for you and never take it for granted.’

Yet Judah’s sense of the temporal still honours the traditional. But, for the artist, that tradition is one of movement, not stasis. ‘When I was a child in synagogue,’ he recalls, ‘I remember watching my father pray with his peers. They were so good at prayer, they knew all the words and all the songs. I never was as good as them. I thought I’d never make a great Jew because I didn’t know all the prayers.’ But there’s more to being a man, says Judah, than ‘just religion — there are other ways of expressing your sense of God. Making art allows me freedom to express how I feel about God and life and myself and that’s more pertinent to me than texts from generations past. As an artist I can make my own rules and create my own sense of the sacred.’

Judah’s art is clearly a refuge as much as a journey. And, in his eloquent exploration of conflict and impermanence, temporal beauty and cross-cultural connections, his work becomes a monument to both the DNA of the past and the architecture of the future.

Details of Goodwood Sculpture Revealed

Anthony Ffrench-Constant, The Telegraph, 13 June 2015

Man-made mayflies with a lifespan of just two weeks, the towering constructs of sculptor Gerry Judah’s imagination have dominated the lawn of Goodwood House at the Festival of Speed for the last 18 years.

Judah says: “I have to make a sculpture within a very short space of time, within a tight budget, that’s got to be as high as possible, as innovative as possible, as original as possible, and as dangerous as possible.

“Each year I like to think of something that’s very different to anything we’ve done before,” he adds. “The hardest thing about designing these sculptures is trying to avoid any conceptual connection with that which I’ve done before. You have to break that connection, yet retain an overall spirit to the work that gives some sort of continuity.

“It’s an intuitive process; you have a notion about what you want to say and how it relates to the space. But recently we’ve seen a lot of design approaches already made by the client.” Indeed, and, lighting 25 candles on the MX-5’s birthday cake, this year’s “Featured Marque”, Mazda, is no exception.

The germination of this year’s sculpture began decades ago with a present to Ikuo Maeda, Mazda’s chief designer, while a student: Danese Milano’s Ameland paper knife, designed by Enzo Mari. It took pride of place on Maeda-san’s desk, and he remained mesmerised by the elegant curvature of the design.

The Japanese have a word for it – shinari. This describes the powerful yet supple appearance of great resilient force when objects of high tensile strength, such as steel, are twisted or bent, or a person or animal flexing its body in preparation for a fast movement, such as an athlete about to leave the starting blocks.

In 2010, shinari duly spawned the company’s new design philosophy Kodo – Soul of Motion.

“It was Kodo that inspired the original idea behind the sculpture,” says Mazda’s design director Kevin Rice. “Breathing life and motion into an object is what Kodo is all about.

“This is how the whole body of the new MX-5 was created. Obviously, creating a 40-metre version of an MX-5 body side would be technically impossible and heavy beyond belief. So, Gerry’s idea of splitting the surfaces into strips gave birth to the ingenious ‘Kodo Lightweight’; a direct link to the quest Mazda set itself to reduce the MX-5’s weight.”

Judah explains: “I started to play with hundreds of ideas based on our discussions to do with twisted metal forms; trying out version after version until I came up with just a very simple twist, promptly leaving me with the age-old problem of how to make it work. I’m always faced with having to build in steel at Goodwood. I can’t do glass, I can’t do aluminium, I can’t do paper.

“The Mercedes, Lotus and Porsche sculptures were monocoques in which the skin itself was the structure; flat sheets of steel welded together to create a shape. But to do this piece in the same way, we’d have to twist each individual steel plate, which would be impossibly complex, time-consuming and expensive.

“I’d love to have made this piece in wood. Sadly, using timber would have been phenomenally expensive and hugely heavy. So we were faced with having to take the material properties and values of steel, and make it look like something else. And that’s how this idea developed.”

Any more detail would give the game away. But I can tell you that the completed sculpture is 40 metres long, rising to 36 metres above the ground. It weighs 120 tons; equivalent to more than 120 Mazda MX-5s. And laid end to end, the 418 steel tubes of which it is constructed would stretch 1,200 metres; the length of the Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb course.

Gerry Judah "FRAGILE LANDS" @ Copeland Gallery, London

Juxtapoz Magazine, 21 May 2015

For the first time, Fragile Lands will bring together a rare collection of Gerry Judah’s highly acclaimed three-dimensional paintings with a newly created sculptural series Bengal. Visually forceful and sensitively crafted, Judah’s poetic works engage with pressing geopolitical issues of conflict and climate change, while remaining deeply personal.

During his illustrious career, Judah has exhibited internationally in spaces ranging from the David Roberts Art Foundation to the British High Commission in Delhi. His striking Great War memorial installation is currently on display in the nave at St Paul’s Cathedral, London. This May, Encounter will bring Judah’s arresting work to a monumental warehouse in Peckham, an area well-known for operating at the forefront of London’s contemporary art scene. Fragile Lands marks ten years since Judah’s first highly acclaimed, solo exhibition Frontiers in Hoxton, London.

‘Ruins hide things. Not just the memory of what they were, but the memories they still contain’ (Robert Fisk on Gerry Judah, The Independent).

Twice commissioned by the Imperial War Museum, Judah artfully documents destruction by creating artworks that both viscerally engage with the stark realities of war and evoke the ephemeral traces of traumas left in its wake. Judah’s ‘dystopian maquettes’ are made with the inevitability that they will be destroyed. With acrylic gesso on canvas, glue and foam board, the artist meticulously composes architectural representations of sites that have become metonymic of past and present conflict, before physically smashing them, leaving behind an abstract detritus of ruined buildings. Through re-appropriating media images of war-torn cities, from Beirut to Baghdad, Judah’s works self-consciously disrupt the apathy and voyeurism that too often comprise our response to destruction. They make physically present the “landscapes of loss” with which we have become disturbingly familiar. The shattered fragments and spikes that form his painterly work make palpable the personal, whilst lending emotive weight to the collective narratives deeply embedded in the canvas. As Judah suggests, “It is the duty of culture to reach further than just the walls it sits on. It mustn’t be parochial, but rather stretch beyond items of war.”

Judah has previously worked in film, television and theatre, creating settings for the BBC, Royal Shakespeare Company, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney amongst many others. His spatial sensibility can still be felt in the dramatic, emotive and physical scale of his recent artworks, which operate on a captivating boundary between painting, architecture and sculpture. In his recent Bengal series, Judah turns his attention to the slow devastation wrought by climate change in India, the country in which he was born and grew up. As in his earlier works, Judah’s engrossing visual spectacles encourage viewers to engage with the complex, the almost unapproachable: the histories of growth and loss, tradition and modernization that are layered in the country.

In his exquisitely detailed sculptures, the structures of temples, electricity pylons and religious artifacts are precariously balanced on rickshaws, a mode of transport that has come to symbolize India’s ingenuity and urban dynamism. Constructed in part from coal and ash, they performatively enact the environmental burden of human industry, while also representing communities’ inherently creative capacity to recycle, to move forward. “These intricate, fragile and colourful works reflect the beauty of India amongst its degradation” (Jane Morrow, Curator Wolverhampton Art Gallery).

The St Pauls Cathedral cruciform to mark the WW1 centenary

Jasper Copping, The Telegraph, 6 April 2014

Two vast, white cruciform sculptures have been installed in St Paul’s Cathedral as part of plans to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The structures, which are each 20ft in height, feature on them, small models of towns which have been ravaged by war, including some destroyed in recent conflicts such as Syria and Afghanistan.

The works, hanging at the head of the nave, have been created by Gerry Judah, 62, who has previously worked on stage sets for Sir Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, and promotional sculptures for car companies such as Ferrari and Porsche.

He has suggested that some may find his decision to portray modern towns destroyed by conflict as “distasteful” in a commemoration of the First World War, but said the works “pose questions about what has continued to go wrong after that war”.

Judah, who in 2000 created a work depicting part of Auschwitz concentration camp for the Imperial War Museum London, was approached last summer by St Paul’s.

The cathedral has run a visual arts programme for the past decade, with contributors including Antony Gormley and Yoko Ono.

Judah said: “It is a great honour to have been selected to create these two new works as part of the World War I commemorations at St Paul’s Cathedral, a building that has historically come to symbolise the triumph of hope and redemption in the face of conflict.

“These sculptures are intended to appeal to our feelings of pity and charity, as well as filling us with hope for the future, which, I feel, is one of the principal purposes of a great place of worship, contemplation and meditation such as St Paul’s.”

The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, The Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, added: “Gerry Judah’s striking sculptures confront us with the reality of a War that saw thousands and thousands of young people from around the world buried with white crosses and stones over their remains. They also provoke us into interrogating the present world and the landscapes we casually view on the news every day, as scarred and agonised by military hate as the hearts and minds of those who survive.”

Gerry Judah’s sculptures for St Paul’s Cathedral

Mark Sinclair, Creative Review, 15 May 2014

Artist Gerry Judah has installed a pair of otherworldly sculptures in the nave in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War…

Painted white, the giant crosses evoke the war graves of northern France but also the more rudimentary markers that are used to indicate makeshift graves all over the world.

The strange appearance of the crosses is, on closer inspection, due to each carrying a series of recreations of bombed-out buildings and structures across its beams.

“In the damaged buildings there is a further element, too, of revelation, for destruction is a kind of perverse archaeology,” says Judah. “Bombs expose the private, the personal, the intimate; the skin of a building ripped away to show lived lives ended in a single blast.”

The Calcutta-born artist, who has lived in London since the early 1960s, had previously worked as a scenic artist for the theatre. Since focusing on the creation of public art, Judah has made pieces for numerous institutions such as the Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Much of his recent three-dimensional work has focused on conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Gerry Judah at St. Paul’s Cathedral

Canon Charles Pickstone, PMSA Magazine, 30 April 2014

Context is all. The monumental interior of St Paul’s Cathedral is a plinth that can destroy any sculpture. Bizarrely, for so decorated an ensemble, it drowns most images in iconoclastic noise.

Gerry Judah has placed two vast white crosses (modelled on those used for World War I graves, which he thus commemorates) on either side of the nave of St Paul’s, just before the crossing (fig.1). Insofar as they survive and even thrive in this context, the same white crosses that Stanley Spencer’s resurrected soldiers in the Sandham Memorial Chapel are patiently queuing to hand back, here hold their own against the vastness of the great interior. There is a folk story in which a brave young hero manages to trick a dragon that is terrorising his kingdom into biting on an iron stake, thus clamping its jaws together. Judah’s pair of crosses similarly dampens the almost overwhelming resonance of St Paul’s: they stick in the craw.

The crosses which on closer examination turn out to have two cross pieces rather than one, rather like a ship’s anchor or a tank-trap are encrusted with tiny mouldings of half-destroyed cities which add to the scale and the monumentality of the work. The terrible forces of history, the work suggests, destroy the mightiest achievements of human civilisation, sloughing off even the skyscrapers that ride on its back. This is clearly an appropriate theme for Lent, the Christian season of penitence and reflection upon the transitory nature of life, and for the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.

And yet if its Cathedral context gives this work the resonance it needs to sing effectively, it also reveals its heartlessness. Many works of art have used the great tides of history as backdrop to give a sense of stature; one thinks of the cave of swimmers in Minghella’s film The English Patient, where the walls of the desert cave in which the heroine has been abandoned are covered with ancient paintings of apparently swimming figures. Here the symbolism of the image is unconsciously one of hope: one person sustained in their lonely and crippled abandon by the images of so many mobile figures, of water in the desert. Judah’s crosses – to this writer at least – have, apart from their strength, an absence of redemptive qualities, a soul-lessness. The tiny scale of the ruined cityscapes make these crosses monstrous; whereas surely the single most important function of the cross, as used in Christian iconography with or without a corpus, is to be a cipher for the human form (fig.2). The Christian cross places the human image firmly into the forces of history, inserting the human into the context of the inhuman magnitude of time and space.

Thus the absence of any human scale to this relentless work, and its unwillingness to negotiate with its surroundings, from which it might have drawn some sense of potentially redemptive hope, makes a Christian cathedral precisely the wrong context. It works to exaggerate St Paul’s already evident tendency to monumental inhumanity rather than to enter into dialogue with its equally powerful human aspects. In the end, Spencer’s picture of soldiers with their white crosses queuing for their new life is the more Christian image. This is not to say that Judah’s work is a bad one: simply and finally, it is irrelevant to its Christian context.

Jewish artist Gerry Judah and the St Paul’s crucifix

Charlotte Oliver, The Jewish Chronicle, 30 April 2014

It is not every day that a Jewish artist is given free rein to make his mark on the walls of St Paul’s Cathedral.

But then, Gerry Judah is not one to follow convention — as can be seen by the six-metre-high cruciform sculptures he has constructed, now hanging either side of the famous church’s Nave Pier walls.

The sculptor — who was born into a Sephardi community in Calcutta, India and came to the UK with his family at the age of 10 — was approached by St Paul’s officials last year with the unique opportunity to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.

The result is two lofty, three-dimensional crosses — painted white to represent the war graves of northern France and Belgium and bearing in model form the ruins of war-torn buildings.

“As an immigrant Jew, to be able to commemorate the most important event of the 20th century in the highest church in the nation and be able to give it my take and my own polemic was a phenomenal platform,” Mr Judah said.

“The challenge was to interpret my take on the war — and war in general — but also to appreciate the sensibilities of a cathedral like this.”

Mr Judah, 62, said he focused his designs on the symbol of the cross as it stood both as an “appropriate image of remembrance” — but also one of violence.

“You have to remember that the cross is a very violent symbol, as it was originally designed to kill people. I thought I would maintain that violence as a polemical reminder that wars have been forever fought over religion.”

As for the irony of a Jewish artist producing crucifix-shaped designs, Mr Judah explained: “I discovered the Renaissance when I went to art school. For me, the crucifixion was not an act of religion but a discovery of art and of amazing artists like Della Francesca and Raphael.”

The sculptor, whose work often comments on the waste and futility of war, said it would have been hypocritical to focus his pieces purely on remembrance.

“It’s all very well looking at a war that happened 100 years ago,” he said. “But we have catastrophic wars still happening today in which cities are being decimated.

“That is why I took the pure shape of the cross and festooned it with contemporary, destroyed buildings. It’s a way of contemporising memory.”

The London-based sculptor has produced sculptures for several religious institutions in the past — including a display at his own shul, Finchley Reform Synagogue, in commemoration of the Czech Memorial Scrolls. He said he was inspired by “the theatricality of religion.

“I grew up in India, where there were hundreds of temples, mosques and synagogues. We had the most amazing synagogues there, so it was a very spiritual place to live.

“It’s actually still my ambition to do something big in a synagogue. I’d love to design a beautiful altar piece, where the challenge is harnessing the expression of that particular community.”

Describing his faith as “constantly feeding” his art, Mr Judah said the poignancy of being the first Jewish artist to display work at St Paul’s was far from lost on him.

“I am very much a Londoner, but you can still sometimes feel like an outsider at the same time. So to be able to come into such a place and be fully embraced and appreciated was fantastic.

“The first minute I met the Chancellor of St Paul’s, we had an instant rapport. I told him a Jewish joke and he started laughing. We got each other,” he said.

Artist Gerry Judah’s landmark St Paul’s sculptures urge us to learn from the past

Bridget Galton, Ham & High, 29 April 2014

As Easter approaches, artist Gerry Judah has unveiled two white crosses in the knave of St Paul’s Cathedral to commemorate a century since the start of the First World War.

The cruciform sculptures, scarred by the bombed-out shells of buildings, were commissioned by Canon Mark Oatley, Chancellor of St Paul’s, and draw a link between the historic conflict and wars being waged today.

Judah, who lives in Highgate and has a studio in Gospel Oak, says: “I have worked on these themes before, but I wanted to do something bespoke for the space, something that embodied the cathedral, which itself is quite an emotional symbol of resistance for Londoners – of Britain standing up against the enemy during the Blitz in Herbert Mason’s famous photograph of the dome through the smoke.

“The white cross symbolises the war graves and remembrance but I wanted to contemporise it by bringing in the connection with current conflicts in places like Syria and Baghdad which are direct products of the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire.”

He adds that the cross is both a potent religious and artistic symbol.

“Some of the greatest paintings are of the crucifixion. It is a focus for Christianity, for peace and hope but it is also a violent symbol, a structure that had a guy nailed on to it and who died on it.

“I wanted to draw those threads into the pieces. They are strongly geo-political sculptures.”

Canon Oatley said the First World War is embedded in the national consciousness but added “you cannot be indulgent with memory”.

“A hundred years sounds a long time but I don’t think societies get over a trauma like that as quickly as they might like to think.

“There is a kind of nostalgic remembering but also a remembering that is about loyalty to the future, putting yourself back together and learning from the past. This is a work that sets out to do that explicitly by recalling the crosses of the war graves, and contemporary landscapes we see on the news every day, lives being ended and scarred forever by the same rupture.”

He believes Easter is a good time to draw these connections, and St Paul’s, which is littered with monuments to Generals and Admirals from historic British wars, a good place.

“Both religions and art work best when they set out not to answer questions but to question answers. After a hundred years, mythology and complacency set in and here’s a work that provokes us into interrogating the present world, throws it all up in the air, and asks what are the true effects of this war?

“I wanted the sculptures here for Holy Week. The Christian faith is such that human faith is carried on the cross. God bears the weight of human failure and there is no bigger failure than war.”

Judah, who was born in Calcutta and came to the UK aged 10, describes his sculptures as “theatrical, pieces of performance, interventions in this cathedral that is so designed in its architecture”.

“All my work is huge, I like the big expression, but these aren’t works about my personal journey, I like my work to be about something else and as an artist I serve the thing I want to say.”

Having lived in Highgate for 32 years, he considers himself a Londoner and views the capital as a place of opportunity.

“Here I am, an immigrant and artist given the freedom to commemorate an event so enormous in the most important building in the country and to make my own geo-political slant on it – that’s what I call an opportunity.”

Gerry Judah’s First World War memorial for St Paul’s Cathedral

Peter Crack, Apollo Magazine, 11 April 2014

St Paul’s Cathedral has unveiled a new First World War memorial by Gerry Judah. The installation consists of two large cruciform sculptures, embellished with miniature reliefs of contemporary and historical architectural ruins.

The artist’s intention was to ‘engage with conflict, destruction and the environment’, both during and beyond 1914.

‘We remember this Great War 100 years later’, he said, ‘but since then, conflict has been ongoing throughout the world… I thought this would be a better testament to those who lost their lives’.

The overall effect is plaintive and abrupt. These jagged and conspicuous structures, ironically rendered in a brilliant white, effectively call to mind the violence of war.

Judah’s work is also suitably iconoclastic, both recalling the mass graves of Flanders and subverting the symmetry of Christopher Wren’s majestic Nave walls.

The artist and Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, wanted this ‘poignant disruption in a beautiful space’ to bridge the collective suffering of those affected by war throughout the last century.

Gerry Judah honours war cemeteries with twin white cruciforms at St Paul’s Cathedral

Ryan Murphy, Culture 24, 11 April 2014

The twin white cruciform shapes trigger thoughts of the rows of white crosses in war cemeteries in northern France, designed to wake us from any immunity to images of war and make viewers question the wastefulness and wanton destruction that continues 100 years after one of the most destructive conflicts in European history.

The link to today’s conflicts in the Middle East is more profound considering that the First World War preceded the dividing of the Ottoman Empire, leading to more conflict.

Shells adorn the crosses, symbolising the way bombs tear away the skin of a building to expose the private lives of those who lived there.

St Paul’s Cathedral has been drawn into conflicts in a previous incarnation when it was destroyed by Vikings and was the centre of an iconic piece of war imagery during World War Two as it stood over burning London, barely scathed by Nazi incendiary bombs in Herbert Mason’s stunning photograph.

“Judah’s work ruptures the symmetry of the Cathedral just as war breaks down human harmony,” says Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor of the Cathedral.

“Placed where they are, we are invited to walk through them, and the failure and pain they represent, into a sacred space of hope where people in all our diversity are invited to come together to worship, to respect and to learn from each other.

“These striking sculptures confront us with the reality of a war that saw thousands and thousands of young people from around the world buried with white crosses over their remains.

“They also provoke us into interrogating the present world and the landscapes we casually view on the news every day, scarred and agonised by military hate in the hearts and minds of those who survive.

“It is a work that starkly asks of us what it must now mean for us to be loyal to our shared future.”

St Paul’s Cathedral

Gabriel Pogrund, Huffington Post, 9 April 2014

This August marks 100 years since the beginning of World War One, an event St. Paul’s Cathedral has asked Calcutta-born artist Gerry Judah to commemorate.

Plastic poppies, renditions of Siegfried Sassoon and the sound of bugles followed by deathly silence serve as annual symbols of the war.

But what about now? The current conflict in the Middle East is a living testament to World War One, mostly from the diplomatic omnishambles that followed in its wake. In 1920, British and French victors carved up the Ottoman Empire, keeping much and apportioning some to selected Arab allies.

Ba’athism was originally conceived as a reactionary movement against the apportionment of Arab land in Syria and Lebanon to the French.

Nobody could have foreseen the leadership at the Ba’ath Party’s helm in Syria today, yet the continuity of this war is a theme that Gerry Judah cannot help but draw upon in his latest work.

The sculptures feature two crosses, each over six metres high, suspended on either side of the Nave Pier Walls inside the cathedral. Peacefully white and immediately evocative of the chalky tombstones of France and Belgium, they alone would have been a powerful testimony to the lives lost. However, St. Pauls had something else in mind.

Admirers of Judah’s striking three-dimensional war canvasses at The Parish Church of Saint Mary Brookfield and the Imperial War Museum, they wanted the sculptures to be infused with contemporary meaning too. Judah, whose work has often remarked upon the enduring and wanton suffering of current wars, certainly does more than commemorate here.

The vast structures are studded with the destroyed housing blocks of Homs, Aleppo, Baghdad and other post-Ottoman cities. They have become an instantly recognised horror on television screens the world over. Judah does not spare much detail in his illustration of the neighbourhoods pummelled by the Syrian Army, featuring a mesh of rubble, concrete and collapsing walls. This eery wasteland is veiled in one homogenising tone, echoing the human loss of years of bloody civil war.

The conclusion one is left to draw is not especially subtle, yet nor is it any less important. The wound of World War One is as open as ever in the Middle East.

Judah remarks upon the ‘ludicrousness’ of war and knows it cannot be ignored by the clergymen and public passing his commemorative sculptures when they are opened this month. This installation is polemic, playing our historical memory of the Great War against similarly brutal conflicts today. Their interaction in the piece is a profoundly tragic irony.

The Church of England had an uncomfortable relationship with World War One. Its Peace League was established in 1911, though by 1914 the notion of a ‘Christian duty to fight’ prevailed amongst British clergymen. Their stance is unified now. On Remembrance Day, we must recognise the universal tragedy of war and the destruction left in its shadows.

Judah urges his audience to acknowledge that the spectre of war still looms large for millions today. Power struggles are replicated in Sudan and Iraq and Afghanistan and several other geopolitical flashpoints. Canon Chancellor Mark Oakley of St. Paul’s Cathedral himself explains the ‘scarred and agonised hearts and minds of those who survive’ are often watched upon by the public far too casually.

If these ongoing conflicts are overlooked, the lessons we learn at Cenotaph will become as parochial as the interests of the few who rendered the world an imperial chessboard one hundred years ago.

Home is where the art is for Bengal born Gerry Judah

Graham Young, Birmingham Post, 24 May 2013

Artist Gerry Judah has been reinvigorated – by going home for the first time in more than half a century.

BY ANY standards, it’s a remarkable collection of sculptures.

Temples, pylons, religious artefacts and an upside down tree with its roots in the air, all sitting on top of models of rickshaws are stunning in their simplicity.

They are artist Gerry Judah’s “expressions of poverty as part of climate change”.

More importantly still, their energy clearly fulfils his ambition to make the exhibition uplifting, for people to be inspired by the pieces rather than depressed.

Gerry has lived in north London most of his life. Describing himself as a Baghdadian Jew – even though he’s never even been to the Iraqi capital – the 61-year-old was born half a world away, in India.

West Bengal, to be precise – some 550 miles south east from Lucklow.

Gerry was 10 when he arrived in the UK, an emotional journey which set him on the path towards Whitefield Secondary Modern School, double first-class honours from Goldsmiths College and a postgraduate degree from the Slade School of Art.

He’s produced works for film, television, museums and public spaces, including spectacular sculptures for London’s Imperial War Museum, the Institute of British Architects and Flowers East Gallery.

Clients having ranged from Paul McCartney and Led Zeppelin to Jaguar and Land Rover and he was asked by the Imperial War Museum in London to create a large model of the selection ramp in Auschwitz Birkenau for the Holocaust Exhibition.

His latest collection of works, called Bengal, is a highlight of Tipping Point, a new climate change exhibition featuring a group of artists’ works at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

The brochure defines the phrase as “the level at which momentum for change becomes impossible” and details how ‘the unstable future of our environments and economies have brought about knock-on effects including migration, conflict and political instability”.

Gerry couldn’t have anticipated the effect that going home for the first time in more than 50 years would have on his own creativity.

Working with Christian Aid, he flew to his homeland fully expecting the degree of unfamiliar poverty there to shock him.

Gerry also knew that in order to interpret this in an artistic way, he should put his professionalism first and his personal life second.

A big decision had to be made. And he stuck to it rigidly.

“Going back to the house where I grew up was the very last thing I did,” he says.

“And, when I did, it felt like I was only last there yesterday.

“It was dilapidated, but there I was, standing in the stairwell of where I lived.

“The daylight was the same, though. It was just as I remembered it and quite moving.

“Within the space of 12 hours I went from my childhood home back to my adult home. It was like I had travelled 50 years overnight.”

Why did he leave it so late to go back to his real roots?

“I didn’t want it to influence what I was seeing (in Bengal) as an adult,” he says.

“I thought about the people of my community who had left or died.

“It felt like their ghosts where there… and that was strange, as if I was taken away from them.

“I spent all those years trying to break away (from India) and then I was taken back into it.

“I was apprehensive about returning, but I’m glad I did, and I certainly will go back again.”

“I cried and cried as a child when I was taken away from India,” Gerry admits.

“But, luckily, we came here in the 1960s. London was a happening place.

While he worries about what will become of post-war Baghdad and Iraq, the motherland of both sets of grandparents, what drives Gerry now is the opportunity to help people who have been trapped by India’s growing economy.

“People are becoming rich and successful, but they are not taking care of those they are leaving behind – and that’s the tragedy of the country,” Gerry reasons.

“I feel duty bound to put across what they are doing, but in my own way. You try to educate and communicate to people what can be done.

“India is becoming a major force and not helping its own people. That’s a political issue. Everyone is fighting for their own at the expense of somebody else.”

Having come back to London, Gerry says his mind is alive with renewed creativity.

“What you are seeing from me now, as an artist, is only the beginning of what I am going to do. My journey, as an artist, is going to take off. I’m ready for the next stage now.

“What you have to do is to differentiate between the exhibit (the message) and the artwork (your interpretation of it and how you address it on your own terms).”

Born to a mother from Calcutta and a father from Rangoon, Gerry’s remarkable pieces could be sold or, better still for now, they could either go on tour around the UK or even to India itself.

“I’d like it to go there so that rich people can see what the hell’s going on!” he says, laughing at his own abruptness.

“Even though lots of people still don’t have electricity, the coal-fired power stations are polluting the earth like you can’t believe.”

The rickshaws are there to symbolise how people won’t stand still.

“Indians are always moving,” says Gerry. “They are forever moving around… and you don’t know where the hell they are going to.”

“My kind of art is value driven, it’s not the kind of art that goes on people’s walls.

“Big sculptures form a lot of my other work.

“The wheels in these examples symbolise travel.

“It would be great to build these full size on real rickshaws and to take them around so they are not just museum pieces.

“I went to the Indian National Museum in Kolkata (founded 199 years ago in 1814) but there’s nothing in there. It’s so emaciated, art works moulding away.

“The real art is in villages. Their way is completely different. We have to teach people to explore and to learn for themselves.

“Ghandi said humans don’t have rights. We have duties. Faith is about what you can put in.”

Wasn’t he contributing to ‘global warming’ himself by flying around the world?, I ask.

“I wondered if I really needed to go to India and where you draw the line,” he says with a furrowed brow.

“I’ve done a load of canvasses about war and never been to a war zone, so I thought: ‘What am I going to do there that I can’t do with photos and videos?’

“Had I not gone, I think I would have done very different art work.

“Villages using coal and kerosene (paraffin) need to learn there are other ways to create energy without polluting your home.

“We are now equipped as a global community to help each other.

“As artists, we can at least inspire people to think about it.”

Gerry has two sons, a 19-year-old who is hoping to study geography at UCL in order to ‘make a difference’, while the 21-year-old is in Leeds studying social sciences.

Wife Helen is an architect, hence he despairs at the number of poor, modern buildings in Britain.

“There are good new buildings in Amsterdam,” he says.

“Selfridges in Birmingham? That’s one of the ugliest lumps around.”

Looking at his phone to check the latest pictures of the new Library of Birmingham leaves Gerry shaking his head.

“That’s bad form with decoration all over it. Very ugly.”

Poor bear the brunt of energy race

CHRISTIAN Aid worker Melanie Smith says the charity wanted Gerry Judah to illustrate how the poorest 40 per cent of India’s population are the ones bearing the brunt of India’s industrialisation.

“Tipping Point explores the inequality of climate change and the race for energy in a country with a booming economy but where more than 360 million people live in poverty,” she says.

“The wealthiest 20 per cent of people consume 80 per cent of the world’s resources… yet in India, whose national grid is struggling to cope with the amount of electricity being produced, only 67.2 per cent of people have access to the energy that is fuelling the country’s rapid growth.

“India needs more investment in technology so that more poor communities and the country’s future economic development can be increasingly powered by clean energy.”

Other artists featured in Tipping Point are HeHe, Virgiania Colwell, Darren Almond, Heather and Ivan Morrison, Anya Gallaccio, John Kelly, Simon Starling and Merel Karhof.

For more information on how Christian Aid is supporting communities affected by climate change in India, visit www.christianaid.org/tippingpoint

Bengal

Jane Morrow, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 11 May 2013

Gerry Judah’s sculptural works, from a series entitled Bengal, are the result of a commission specifically for Tipping Point in association with international development agency Christian Aid. This marks the second occasion that Wolverhampton has commissioned an artist in association with Christian Aid, the first being the 2007 exhibition Children in Conflict. For this exhibition, painter John Keane visited Angola following the civil war to record the impact on children and young people in the area.

The sculptures in Tipping Point are inspired by a research trip to West Bengal and Jharkhand undertaken by the artist and members of the Christian Aid team in 2012. Judah was born and raised in Kolkatta, which allowed him to reflect on issues of identity, displacement and loss. His relief paintings are renowned for dealing with the impact of war and disaster on the urban landscape. Whilst architectural features (flats, communication and water towers) are recognisable, it is unclear what or where these structures and places are and what has caused them to be destroyed, scorched, washed away or abandoned. The canvases are often bleached white, further removing any sign of life or identifying characteristics.

These intricate, fragile and colourful works reflect the beauty of India amongst its degradation. Not simply motivated to produce reportage, Judah aims to capture the ‘subtle poetry’ of the situation facing the people there. He reports being struck by the extent to which everyday objects, even those unfit for purpose, are reappropriated and recycled. For Judah, this was a mark of ‘how people are trying very hard to help themselves to come out of this struggle, not to just go and rally and complain, but getting on with it… trying very hard to not just better their lives under the most adverse conditions, but also to stay together as a community.’

The temples, pylons and monuments to progress that Judah has constructed are remade from coal and ash – symbols of industry in a now developed country, one widely regarded as a key economic force. However the media portrayal of a country in ascendance does not tally with Judah’s experiences: “It seems to me that there are people in India getting richer and richer and there are people in India getting poorer and poorer. And it’s those who are really more affected by climate change. And it seems to me that climate change has had such an impact on people that they’re trying to patch up whatever they could to just deal with it.”

The final words must go to Malcolm Gladwell: ‘In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.’

The questions are when, and the direction in which we do this.

Victorian Dioramas for the 21st Century

Hadani Ditmars, Haaretz, 24 August 2012

“It’s always been about turning lead into gold,” says the London-based painter, sculptor and installation artist whose ancestors came from Baghdad, and who grew up in Calcutta’s mid-century Jewish community.

In essence, Judah’s work is often about turning the ruins of war into moving odes to communities recovering from violence. From Auschwitz to Jenin, from Beirut to Baghdad, his dystopian maquettes read like lunar landscapes of loss. Playing with the tension between absence and presence, he creates architecturally inspired work that is evocative and provocative, challenging viewers to awaken from their casual, televisual voyeurism and delve into the very soul of ravaged places.

While inspired by contemporary photographs and news clips, there is something oddly 19th-century about his work. While it seems easier than ever to distance oneself from the realities of war in our digital age, when multimedia overexposure to atrocities often dilutes their impact, Judah’s paintings – stylized maquettes cantilevering off the canvas that he creates and destroys himself – engage the viewer in no uncertain terms. They are like Victorian dioramas for the 21st century, yet unequivocally paintings, turgid landscapes inspired as much by Turner’s passionate skies as by modern warfare.

Judah categorically refuses the label of “war artist” – “that’s not what my work is about,” he says. His work offers stylized elements of war-torn landscapes rather than literal recreations, and the actual process of making them combines various aspects of his background as a model-maker and theatrical, television and cinematic set designer.

“I once had to recreate an entire Italian city out of biscuits for a television commercial,” he recalls, noting that “working in miniature can be epic – can express something enormous. It has great power.”

Working from photographs and videos in his London studio, he creates maquettes that emerge from the canvas, systematically destroys them, and then paints over their remains with acrylic gesso (a thick, white primer). He prefers a predominantly white palette. “White can reveal the intensity of a place as much as black,” says the artist, whose affable character, bear-like demeanor and sense of humor belie the gravitas of his subject matter. “In a way, white is ‘darker’ than black.

“They’re also my own, private war zones – they are about me as much as they are about the places,” he reveals.

‘You can never escape yourself’

Indeed, while the young Judah turned to art as a way to transcend his lower-middle class immigrant reality in grim post-war England, his work is mainly about places he has an ancestral or actual personal connection to. “You can never really escape yourself as an artist,” he laughs, “no matter how hard you try.”

He recalls a pivotal moment in his trajectory as an artist, when as a young student at Goldsmiths College, at the University of London (where Damien Hirst later studied ), with a great interest in Jung and the collective unconscious, he found himself making something in an almost automatic fashion.

“I built a cone on wheels and called it a sukkah,” he relates. Later on he went to the reading room at the British Museum and saw images of Mesopotamian structures that resembled his own creation, and felt he had tapped into “a genetic visual memory of my forefathers.” Indeed, one of Judah’s strongest visual memories from his trilingual (Hindi, English and Hebrew ) upbringing in Calcutta – where his father worked in the jute mills and he attended a Jewish school that, with a nod to its Indian surroundings, also taught students about Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism – was of the annual sukkah created by the elders in his community for the autumn festival: “They made these incredible tabernacles, decorated with hanging fruits and illuminated by fairy lights, in the middle of a field.”

This was quite a contrast to the sukkot he encountered when the family moved to England in 1961 – “a little booth at the back of your living room – where you went outside until it started raining again.” By contrast, in India, “there were these beautiful, long autumnal nights where you would eat and drink and meet your friends and neighbors. In many ways this was my first introduction to theater and to installation art.”

Another strong visual memory from his Indian childhood is of riding the school bus through the slums and seeing dead bodies on the ground. Just 10 years after the partition of British India, there was still regular violence and arson between Hindus and Muslims (“the local cinema was burned to the ground a dozen times” remembers Judah ) and in spite of his more idyllic memories, Calcutta was a low-level war zone.

Votive candles

While in many ways Judah’s work can be seen as part of a Jewish Diaspora tradition, it also transcends that tradition to embrace universal values. His 1993 work for Amnesty International, an expression of hope for the future of human rights, featured a series of arched alcoves containing lit candles, evocative of the Jewish memorial candles used to commemorate the dead, but also suggesting votive candles in the Buddhist or Catholic traditions. Judah’s art reads like a visual tikkun olam – a healing of the world, through an exploration of its broken-ness.

His 2000 work on Auschwitz, commissioned by the Imperial War Museum – he created a model of the death camp’s selection ramp – was much more schematic than literal and based in part on an album of photographs of camp life discovered in a bunk by a survivor. It reads like a storyboard in some great cinematic epic, an all-white, three-dimensional painting depicting a single day in June 1944. “When I went to Auschwitz to do the research.” Judah explains, “I felt numbed by it – it was just a processing plant. It was of course horrendous, macabre, evil … but I was more moved when I visited an old synagogue in Krakow, whose original community had been destroyed. It reminded me of going to synagogue in Golders Green as a boy, hanging out with my mates and talking about parties on Saturday night. It made me feel the reality of people that didn’t exist anymore. I was not so much moved by the ruins of Auschwitz as I was by the killing of what had been an alive community.”

The Israeli siege of Jenin, during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, inspired a more explicitly architectural series of work based on war-zone landscapes transmitted by television, devoid of people. “Instead of aerial bombardment,” explains Judah, “the Israel Defense Forces was using bulldozers to rip open buildings and expose them – so that what was left was a largely white carpet of destruction, like a textured painting.”

What was exposed, in essence, was the detritus of the everyday fragments of wallpaper, dishes – bits of people’s lives that Judah transformed into aestheticized urban archaeology.

When IDF forces bombarded Beirut in 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, Judah was inspired to begin another series, which became part of his “Angels” exhibit (shown at the Royal Institute of British Architects ), featuring aerial views of wrecked buildings shown in surprisingly delicate relief. But in contrast to the one- and two-story structures of Jenin, he was now in the realm of high-rises, working on a much more monumental scale with deeper edifices. Instead of extending a few centimeters off the canvas, they were almost a full meter high. “There were thousands of aerials and spikes poking out,” relates Judah, “as if even approaching the works as a viewer was a dangerous act.” In this series (partly inspired by the scene in Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” in which arrows fly like missiles into Macbeth ) casual voyeurism was compromised by merely engaging with the work physically.

While Jenin was about peeling away facades, Beirut, says Judah, was about bombs from far away destroying buildings – a scale he also referenced in his 2010 work “Crusader” (commissioned by the Imperial War Museum ), which evoked the damage caused by predator drones and other forms of aerial bombardment.

‘Like Tel Aviv’

The scale of Judah’s Baghdad series (2007’s “Motherlands” and 2009’s “Babylon” ) offered a different perspective. Apart from a few Tower of Babel references, the series was evocative of Baghdad’s status as a horizontal city of low-rises – “like Tel Aviv,” notes Judah – “very Bauhaus, very modern.” In contrast to earlier works, this series became looser, more painterly and textured – less maquette-like.

While Judah admits to being emotionally overwhelmed by media images of war zones, he says that “being an artist is like being a surgeon. You have to be detached from your work in order to do it properly.”

When he works in his studio, he explains, it’s not just a question of recreating a destroyed building, but transforming it into the realm of art, and transcending the literal. While his intention in creating the works is driven by aesthetics rather than any political agenda – apart from a broad, pacifist stance – the end result is necessarily about geopolitics. The act of documenting destruction becomes an engaged one and offers a visceral way of relating to war, starting a process within the viewer.

Judah is acutely aware of the ironic juxtaposition of his attitude from his days as a young student – that art was a way to escape himself and his reality – and his current oeuvre.

“I used to think art was a kind of alchemic escape, but my most profound work is about me and where I come from.”

Without being aware of his Indian upbringing, the charity Christian Aid commissioned Judah to go to Calcutta and West Bengal this October, to produce work on sustainability and climate change. Two-hundred million Indians don’t have electricity, and this summer’s black-outs have challenged one of [the world’s fastest-growing economies.

“As a young artist,” relates Judah, “I thought art was about breaking away from my community, and where I was, that art was about reaching for somewhere else. But the ‘gold’ is in where I come from. It’s in those war zones, in the collective history of my people, and in going back to where I grew up.”

Hadani Ditmars is the author of “Dancing in the No Fly Zone: a Woman’s Journey Through Iraq” (Haus Publishing ). Her website is hadaniditmars.com.

Towering Symbolism

28 June, 2012, Lotus

Across the UK this week, architecture meets art head on. Public spaces are becoming canvases designed to shock, impress or contradict their surroundings, whether by ruefully reflecting them back at themselves or boldly reimagining how they may look in the future.

A racing car is designed with singularity of purpose: to complete a set number of laps and within a set of technical rules in the fastest time possible. But, emotionally, it’s so much more. Its focused design carries the hopes and fantasies of more than just the driver sat in its snug, spartan cockpit. Racing cars are inspiring, and the Goodwood Festival of Speed exists to celebrate that fact and place thoroughbred racers and slinky sports cars on a pedestal of almost religious worship. And, just as a cathedral has a tower so as to be seen from a distance, Goodwood has an automotive sculpture to draw followers in, and act as its festival centerpiece.

Each year, Goodwood has a featured marque; a car maker which inspires disciples, maybe because of its style, or success on the track, often both. In 2012, the featured marque is Lotus. It is fitting that this most British of automotive icons is toasted at this most British of garden parties, six decades in and with its foot on the gas.

Artist and designer Gerry Judah has been commissioned by Group Lotus to create a bold centerpiece that captures the essence of Lotus from its beginnings to the present. A 3-D infinity loop, 28 metres high, it resembles the grandest, most ambitious Scalextric track ever imagined. The winding curves represent Lotus’s natural environment; cars that are built for cornering. It’s a monocoque structure, an engineering approach first applied to racing cars and refined by Lotus. “The monocoque structure, which is made of steel plates and joined together to create the loop, is meant to highlight the engineering DNA of Lotus,” confirms Judah. “It’s a lightweight engineering construction and I think its form shows the Lotus psychology and culture.”

The sculpture is a race track, and sat on its surfaces are six very significant Lotus cars. Not scale models: full-size, genuine, actually-been-raced examples from Lotus’s longstanding motorsport campaign. There’s a green-and-yellow Type 32B, the car in which Jim Clark won the 1965 Tasman Series in Australia and New Zealand. Then there’s the red-and-white Type 49, in which Graham Hill raced to the crown. Next is the JPS-liveried Type 72, in which Emerson Fittipaldi became the sport’s youngest champion. Then the black-and-gold ’79, the ultimate ground-effect car now high in the air, and responsible for Mario Andretti’s world title. A bolt of yellow in the shape of the Lotus 99T next, the last Lotus driven by Ayrton Senna. And, finally, we have the current Lotus grand prix car as driven by Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.

Rich history there, some immortal legends, and some pretty valuable metal and carbon fibre too. Is it safe to lynch them nearly 10 storeys? “Well, we haven’t erected it yet,” laughs Judah, a little nervously. But he needn’t be, because he’s been here many times before. “We put the Bluebird up in the air, and a Supermarine plane that had been sat in a museum for 70 years”. Judah has now built 15 sculptures for Goodwood, so he knows what he’s doing. “Many years ago Charles March [the owner of Goodwood House and the organizer of the Festival of Speed] was a commercial photographer, and back in the 1980s I used to build sets for him. Having not seen him for about 15 years or so, he called me up in 1997 and asked me to build something for him: a triumphal arch with a Ferrari hanging underneath. Despite terrible rain and winds to endure when we put it up, it was great fun and a few months later he asked if I wanted to do another.”

Judah worked closely with Lord March and Lotus to determine the design. “I came up with a few concepts and then we had a dialogue. A great piece of art doesn’t just come from the artist, it needs to come from the client too and along with Charles March, Lotus’ head of marketing, Tommaso Volpe, really had that vision.”

Cars have always been a passion of Judah’s. “I’ve always admired Lotus since I was a boy. They’re such British cars, with that ideology of clever, forward thinking science and engineering. That was something I knew I needed to embrace. It’s almost unconscious how I approach sculpture. I don’t do brands. None of the sculptures I’ve done for Goodwood have spoken about the brand, you can get an advertising agency to do that. I do something more intuitive. It is, dare I say it, more a spiritual journey in design.”

Speaking of spiritual journeys, he says inspiration for his work can be traced to India, where he was born. His mother was from Calcutta, his father from Rangoon, and Gerry was raised in West Bengal till the age of ten when the family emigrated to London. “The landscape, the awesomeness of the huge temples and mosques, the rituals, the architecture… everything had a sense of grandeur. Not necessarily scale, but grandeur of spirit.”

Before turning his attention to public sculpture, painting and fine art, Gerry had made a name for himself in theatrical, movie and television set design, establishing a studio on Shaftesbury Avenue after graduating Goldsmiths College and the Slade School of Fine Art. The dramatic elements to his work are clear, and this has been embraced not just by marques such as Porsche, Audi and Jaguar but by companies such as the Royal National Theatre, English National Opera, Royal Shakespeare Company, BBC and Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, The Who and Led Zeppelin to create the most impressive rock shows. And there has been darker subject matter, none more serious and introspective than a large model depicting Auschwitz at the Holocaust Exhibition and his CRUSADER for the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester.

Working with the Lotus models up on the huge 3-D loop, and with Clive Chapman – the owner of the five classic F1 models – has been important in order to convey Lotus’s integrity. “Everything up there is original,” says Judah, “because that’s the whole idea of Goodwood. These are the original racers and they project that spirit of not just the Festival of Speed but of the history of motorsport, to which Lotus has been such a significant contributor. We could have stuck the cars up on podiums as you might in a museum, but that wouldn’t give the cars the salute they deserve. You need some element of danger and panache, as exhibited when they’re racing on the track.” The cars are held in place by their wheels, which sit in specially designed cups and are strapped to them tightly. “We treat each car very delicately,” he assured Clive, who Gerry says is “participating in this as a tribute to his father’s life’s work.”

The sculpture comes in 11 major sections, which will be delivered from Littlehampton Welding, where they’re fabricated, to Goodwood 22 miles away by individual articulated lorries and a police escort.

After the Festival, the sculpture will be dismantled and the plan is to bring it to Lotus’s Norfolk headquarters. Minus the cars, which must be returned to Clive Chapman’s Classic Team Lotus workshop and to the Lotus F1 Team, the sculpture has a plot reserved next to the Hethel test track, where the elderly racers first turned their wheels.

It will look out across the circuit to where Lotus’ current and future models are track tested around another loop, and like the infinity sculpture there’s no end in sight. Lotus’s history is always growing, and this is what Gerry Judah’s handsome sculpture is designed to represent.

Gerry Judah at Fitzroy Gallery

David Cohen, artcritical.com, 25 January 2011

The debut New York show for India-born British artist Gerry Judah initiates a new venue, Fitzroy Gallery, which opened its Soho doors last month. Judah’s equal parts ominous and alluring three-dimensional paintings (relief seems an inadequate term for works of such in your face heft) take war and destruction as their subject, giving us bombed out, nondescript brutalist seventies structures in dramatic aerial view. Judah is a legendary set designer for TV, theater, museums, rock concerts, counting Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin and The Who among his clients, as well as the BBC and London’s Natural History Museum. He lovingly builds his unlovable buildings with model-maker’s care only to deconstruct the resulting forlorn, innards-spewing wrecks with equally meticulous destructiveness. The monochrome (black or white), painterly alloverness of these architectural funerary portraits is aestheticizing, almost indeed ethereal—think Charles Simonds meets Mark Bradford meets Cy Twombly— despite their ash-strewn sense of doom. And yet Judah’s chromophobia equally operates non-metaphorically, sparking stark associations of grainy satellite pictures. The destruction detailed is remote and visceral, dainty and monumental, abstract and chillingly real.

Constructive Criticism: the Week in Architecture

Jonathan Glancey, 8 July 2011, The Guardian

Across the UK this week, architecture meets art head on. Public spaces are becoming canvases designed to shock, impress or contradict their surroundings, whether by ruefully reflecting them back at themselves or boldly reimagining how they may look in the future.

First up is a mass of white steel tubes (half a kilometre and half a tonne of the stuff, to be exact). It was there at the beginning of the week. But just as quickly as a Jaguar E-Type can accelerate from 0-100mph, Gerry Judah’s bombastic sculpture of the world famous sports car in front of Goodwood House, Sussex is on its way to being taken down.

If you missed this sculpture commissioned by Jaguar for this year’s Festival of Speed, don’t worry … it will soon be re-erected permanently near Coventry, home to Jaguar.

Standing 28 metres high, Judah’s E-Type was a sensational foil to the classical grace of Goodwood House during the three-day festival. Judah, who worked as an architectural draughtsman with Richard Seifert before training as an artist at Goldsmiths College and the Slade School of Art, tells me: “I see myself as part showman, part shaman and a bit of an alchemist.”

I first met Judah in 1993 when the Calcutta-born artist created a moving and monumental Human Rights sculpture for Amnesty International. This was designed to have stood on Potters Fields next to Tower Bridge, but was refused planning permission. Since then, he has made such sculptural marvels as the Auschwitz Model in London’s Imperial War Museum, and 15 car sculptures for successive Festivals of Speed.

The E-Type sculpture makes us see afresh the relationship between historic design and contemporary art. The tensions and ambiguities between the two can be both strange and delightful.

Great Works: The Crusader 2010, Gerry Judah

Michael Glover, 31st December 2010, The Independent

Over the next 12 months you will be able to see this sculpture as you enter the main exhibition area of the Imperial War Museum North, at Salford Quays in Manchester. It is high-hanging dramatically from the wall, bulky, cross-shaped, slightly askew, radiantly white against the black-painted, stainless-steel panelling, as if it might be the suffering saviour himself slumped slightly forward and sideways in his death agonies. This Libeskind building, with its soaring, leaning, steel-plated walls, its eerie unpredictabilities, is an agglomeration of odd, tilting angles, and so it comes as no surprise that this huge, depending sculpture is not smartly squared up either.

It is a museum that looks at war from the point of view of particular human beings. Many of the objects that you see in it belonged to people whose names we know – that is its particular poignancy – a mess kit, identification papers, photographs, rows of helmets. This is not one of those. This sculpture by Gerry Judah is a generalised symbol of the human suffering caused by the enduring madness of war.

The Crusader is dramatically posed, lighter-looking than its mass and its bulk seem to suggest, directly opposite a Harrier Jet AV-8A, which is nosing down as it comes into land. Like Judah’s sculpture, the Harrier too is tilted to the side as it simulates landing – they seem to be in a kind of stately come-dancing partnership, one pulling decorously away from the other, and you catch sight of the sculpture through the underside of one of the Harrier’s 25ft wings, radiating the kind of white light that you might expect of a religious symbol of some kind. Is this a religious symbol, then? The jury is still out on that one.

What cannot be denied is that it is altogether a curious thing in its polyvalency. You can read it in so many different ways. There is the blatant Christian symbolism of the cross shape itself of course, but once up close, staring up at it, you recognise that this is in fact a representation of a fragment of blasted urban landscape built up and away from that cross shape, which consists of a couple of intersecting streets, containing tower blocks, water towers, and a great, spiky, bristly intermeshing of aerials and satellite dishes, all messily interwoven, the tattered remnants of a neighbourhood pulverised by bombs.

Yes, the sculpture is a kind of cross-shaped island, hanging in the air, on its side, and we are privileged to be getting an almost vertigo-inducing aerial view of it. Yes, it is as if we are looking straight down on it – we can see into the hollowed out shells of buildings, the shattered fragments of collapsed staircases – except that we are, in fact, looking up at it from the floor. This means that we are seeing it from the perspective of the man who might have flown over it and done all the damage, and that uncomfortable thought brings us up short. Yes, perhaps we we are the ones who have committed all these the atrocities in the first place.

There is another interesting fact, too. The almost virginal whiteness strikes us as odd. This is a scene of devastation, and yet it is also strangely etherealised, rendered unreal, by the fact that, tonally speaking, there is nothing here but a dazzling, disembodied whiteness so suggestive of purity and otherworldliness. That word disembodied leads on to another thought. There are no people here either. Not a fragment or a trace of a charred body, not a smear of blood to be seen anywhere. Why is this hanging fragment of urban landscape, which seems to have been smashed by some enraged fist, so empty of any human presence? The sculpture feels utterly still, floating here, wrapped in its own witnessing silence, as if it is in some way a posthumous testimony of some kind. It feels like a shroud-like witness to what happened long ago, the afterlife of a long vanished civilisation of bloodthirsty barbarians, so touchingly unblemished now, and with all evidence of human pain bleached out. A second Pompeii perhaps, magically projected forward into the world of the here and now.

As we look more and more, the general shape seems to change and then change again. Its tilt – that pronounced list – seems to suggest a mighty ship roiling in the waves; looked at again, and it seems to be spinning through the air, slowly turning as it goes. Yes, there is an overall lightness about it, hanging here, as it does, so patiently, in this dazzling, transfiguring white light. And especially so when we see its ghostly form, almost its visual after-echo, reflected in the unpainted stainless steel panelling of the wall close to which it hangs.

Increase the Peace

Dan Feeney, Creative Tourist, 25 November 2010

Imperial War Museum North is a place where our everyday understanding of the world is up for negotiation. The museum’s collection examines the cost of human life shattered by conflict, while Daniel Libeskind’s building represents a globe shattered by war. The latest addition to this at times challenging museum is The Crusader, a sculpture by the acclaimed painter, sculptor and designer Gerry Judah. For Judah, it marks the end of an investigation into the impact of war that began with a model of the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp at Imperial War Museum London some ten years ago.

“That had a profound impact on me,” he remembers, “because what I was dealing with was a historical aspect, and people’s memories and experience. I was harnessing a lot of factors to make an art piece. What that made me do was develop the work further, and I started seeing that the wars and conflicts in Gaza, the West Bank, Baghdad, Beirut and so forth, all had a very similar texture and impact.

Situated as it is in the entrance to the main exhibition space, The Crusader brings a new sense of presence to the beginning of most visitors’ engagement with the museum, unlike the hitherto-dominant Harrier jet. Imposing a sense of the impact of war, the seven-metre high, three-dimensional sculpture features war-torn, decimated cities and tower blocks sprouting from a white cross. The viewer is at once drawn to investigate the detail of the destruction whilst also standing back to take in the scale of the piece, and the concepts behind it. Judah focuses the viewer on the human aspect of war, and highlights the museum as much more than a repository of the technologies of destruction. “When I saw the photographs of Beirut, it was extraordinary the way these buildings had been ripped apart,” he says. “You saw inside these buildings, and inside these people’s lives. I’ve always been drawn to buildings not just destroyed by conflict but also by neglect and the environment. Regardless of what causes them, it’s the lives that were inside those buildings, that were lived and left because of these conflicts.”

Inside the museum, Judah presents cities and buildings rent asunder even as Imperial War Museum North itself watches Salford Quays and Media City develop around it. The BBC has taken possession of the keys to its new home, with plans to begin moving services into Media City from May 2011. Imperial War Museum North and The Lowry are well placed to capitalise on the continuing development of this once-neglected part of Salford. Jim Forrester, Director of Imperial War Museum North, believes the development of the Media City tram station and link bridge to the museum will “undoubtedly bring more visitors to the whole area as it grows into one of the most important cultural destinations in the UK. The first stage of external landscaping outside the museum is nearing completion, with a new quayside promenade to open this month, and linked to Media City in December by a spectacular new bridge. This will greatly enhance the visitor experience, creating a circular walkway around the major tourist attractions at the Quays.

Much as Judah’s sculpture represents an internalising and personalising of Libeskind’s vaunted rhetoric, so too will Imperial War Museum North reflect its new partner across the Ship Canal. A special exhibition, War Correspondent: Reporting Under Fire Since 1914, is planned to coincide with the arrival of the BBC next May. Until then, The Crusader offers a timely interjection and new starting point for the exploration of both the collection and the notions of war as well as, more importantly for Judah, peace.

“I think it is the ethos of the museum that was far more important in this case than its collection,” he says. “It’s an odd thing to call this place the Imperial War Museum. For me. I see it as a museum for peace, not one of war. It’s also a museum of life, and I wanted to draw on that. It’s a great place, a great building, and a great city, so I felt I had to do a great piece and make it reach further than just the walls it sits on. That is the duty of culture, that it mustn’t be parochial, and to stretch beyond items of war.”

First Impressions: Judah’s Sculpture for Goodwood

Tom Greenall & Ian Douglas-Jones, Building, 14 September 2010

Recent architectures graduate from the Royal College of Art comment on the giant Audi loop sculpture at Goodwood.

Tom Greenall’s verdict: From relatively inauspicious beginnings, with a classically-styled monumental prancing horse for Ferrari in 1997, Judah’s sculptures for Goodwood’s annual Festival of Speed have escalated to become an anticipated centrepiece for the festival’s events. Having now worked on sculptures for Ferrari, Jaguar, Porsche, Audi, Renault, Honda, Ford, Rolls-Royce, and Toyota, Judah’s auto-enthused 2009 sculpture is once again in homage of Audi, as the esteemed German manufacturer celebrates its centenary year. Reportedly the most technically ambitious structure ever created at Goodwood – and certainly the most visually audacious – the Audi loop incorporates two iconic machines from either end of a ‘long and triumphant’ sporting century. However, despite this technical audacity – and in contrast to the visual complexity of previous years – the Audi loop is a piece of ‘remarkable purity’. This makes it, in my opinion, the most successful Festival of Speed sculpture yet, and highly appropriate for a car-maker that has made modern design a central tenet of its approach. In terms of sculpture, the piece would sit happily next to one of Claes Oldenburg’s giant replicas of everyday objects, like an enlarged piece of a child’s Scalextric set rammed into the ground, and with all the joy of one of James Wines and SITE’s supermarket installations. Similarly to Wines, Judah’s piece walks a line between art, architecture and advertising. However, this year, unlike any other (Land Rover 2008, Toyota 2007, Honda 2005, for example) the Audi loop avoids any aesthetic association with the car showroom. Instead, it captures the essence and optimism of a more exposition-like piece, ensuring a more enduring memory, unrestricted by its necessary corporate identity.

Ian Douglas-Jones’ verdict: Judah is back at Goodwood. Now as permanent fixture in the racing calendar as Goodwood itself. Judah has been awing visitors for nine consecutive years with vehicular based sculptures of epic proportions. Endorsed by the big brands, each yearly sculpture captures the spirit and essence of that years chosen car maker. Past manufacturers include Toyota, Rolls Royce, Renault, Mercedes Benz, Land Rover, Jaguar, Honda and Ford. This time its Vorsprung durch Technik (Advancement through Technology) more commonly referred to as Audi. Old and new cars take the focus, with Audi’s legendary 1937 Auto Union Streamliner and a 2009 V10 R8. The art deco like Streamliner is steeped in history. In 1937 racer Bernd Rosemeyer drove a V16 version to 252mph on public road, reckless fearless or just a car that’s capable? And the new car? Well, Vorsprung durch Technik is evident, and fortunately Judah has captured all of that yesteryear excitement and buzz as well as including the rather soulless new car. I suspect a bit of client pressure there. After all it really is just a big advert. The soaring curves are reminiscent of a banked speedway, together with arrow straights give the 44tonne steel and aluminium sculpture the elegance and grace of silk, with poise and calibration of the cars mounted 32m up. Metal streams back from the cars as if torn from the air as the tires bore forward. Less delicate ballet, and more shear accuracy and power, Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy seems like a wimp in comparison. Whilst the motoring industry is crashing all around, Judah’s new work is a dynamic edifice to Audis past on one hand; yet it serves as charging optimism on the other.. Viva la speed, oops I mean Es lebe Geschwindigkeit!

Gerry Judah’s Goodwood Creations: Towers of Horsepower

Martin Gurdon, The National, 30 June 2010

Artist and sculptor Gerry Judah is matter-of-fact about an unusual aspect of one commission. “I had to create a triumphal arch to hang a Ferrari.” Such is the work he is used to now. Since 1997, Judah has been building enormous, car-themed structures for the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, held in the grounds of the Goodwood Estate in the English county of Sussex. Apart from stringing up Ferraris, he has bolted Range Rovers to giant metal structures that tower over the stately Goodwood House, and attached priceless, pre-Second World War Auto Union racers and modern Audi R8 supercars to equally huge creations that look like giant Scalextric tracks twisting and shooting into the air. These and the other installations he has built for the likes of Honda, Ford, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce are commercial commissions, with all the delicate negotiations that this entails. But Judah insists corporate sponsorship hasn’t led to corporate interference. “They all want to do something exciting and they want to market themselves well, but they’re not sculptural patrons and they’ve given me a free hand with proposals and allowed me to be as creative as I want,” he says.

Judah was born and raised in West Bengal, India, before his family moved to London, where he attended school. With a double first in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and postgraduate studies in sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art, he is very much a professional artist. He sculpts and paints (and is particularly proud of a series of war-themed paintings, which can be seen at www.gerryjudah.com), but has been lucky enough to have found bill-paying work that hasn’t been soul-destroying or banal. “After college, I sort of moved on to do big sculptures and obviously couldn’t afford to do them on my own, so I got drawn into theatre and film.” Among other things, Judah has designed sets for the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the English National Opera. This was in the 1980s. “It was a very abundant period. New plays were being written and we were building the sets.” London’s Soho district was filled with advertising agencies and television production companies, and Judah began working on big-budget TV commercials for clients such as Heineken and Benson & Hedges. “Fully paid-up things, and very exciting,” he points out. It was at this point that he got to know a talented still life photographer named Charles Setterington. Judah was vaguely aware that Settrington had connections with the English aristocracy, but had never given it much thought, particularly after their professional paths diverged, until a mid-1990s phone call. “Charles Settrington was now the Earl of March (whose family owns the Goodwood estate). He remembered me from the days when I built sets, and asked me to make the triumphal arch. I thought, ‘That’s fine’,” says Judah. Settrington had been running the Festival of Speed, a celebration of classic cars and racing, since 1993. The event was getting more and more popular, moving from a one-day event to an entire weekend and attracting tens of thousands of people. Judah successfully dangled a Ferrari under this creation and thoroughly enjoyed the commission, and was delighted when 1998 rolled round and Lord March called again. “He said, ‘Oh, I’ve got another one with Porsche. Can you do something with them?'”

And that’s pretty much how the working relationship between the motorsport-loving, festival-running peer of the realm and the artist and sculptor has continued. “There are restrictions when you’re building a sculpture the size of an oil rig a few feet from a stately home, with 120,000-plus people walking underneath it. You have to know about things like wind loads,” says Judah. Much as he’d love to use materials like cloth, it’s for this reason that all his Goodwood creations are metal fabrications. “I work with some fantastic engineers and fabricators, so this is very much a collaborative effort.” He says the huge Land Rover “boulder” from 2008 is an example of this. “I wanted to make something that looked like a massive rock, with the contradiction that you could see through it.” This involved a lot of discussions about using complex joints, or sheets of steel (“like an egg carton”). In the end, giant steel tubes were chosen. “I work with people like Bill Tustin from Littlehampton Welding. He knows everything there is to know about steel, and I get the details right working it out with him,” says Judah. “You need to work with people from different disciplines. They help you create an illusion and a sense of magic. Like every magician, you’ve got to work out your tricks so they don’t collapse on you.” Judah and his team of engineers and artisans haven’t been excluded from the odd hair-raising moment though. In 2001, he had produced a huge installation featuring a swooping 1950s Mercedes 300SL gullwing coupe that was nearing completion when a fabricator rang to ask if it had been earthed to the ground, as a very large thunderstorm was heading its way. With visions of a rare, expensive old car and a fathomlessly priceless stately home being fried by a lightning bolt, Judah dispatched a van with a lightning rod, which was hotly pursued by the inclement weather all the way to Goodwood. Fortunately the van got there first. Despite the horror stories of trying to paint massive, extravagantly shaped steel creations in rain-lashed “force-11 gales” as deadlines tick away, he clearly enjoys the work.

“A good idea can take a long time, but a great idea can take a moment,” he says. “For instance, the Audi ‘Swoop’ came into my head when I was on a London bus between Oxford Circus and Portland Place; so I sketched and emailed this to the engineers.” He’s a huge fan of the Internet and other modern means of communication as a means of quickly working on ideas with people in different parts of the country. “Often, we’re pretty much designing on a Blackberry,” he says. Judah says that he “loves cars”, but from an artistic rather than a vehicle enthusiast’s perspective. Put crudely, he likes their shapes. “Often when I’m talking to clients, I have no idea about the cars they’re discussing, but every time I do one of these things, I learn more.” This year’s display will feature Italian car maker Alfa Romeo. It has a new model, the Giuletta hatchback – which made its debut at Goodwood – and the marque is celebrating its centenary this year. Alfa’s installation will feature a modern 8c coupe and a classic P2 racing car, and will echo the marque’s four-leaf clover emblem. He describes the 8c as “curvaceous,” and says that he hopes the structure will pick up on this. It will, inevitably, be in “Alfa red”, and Judah talks about “lines of steel dynamically moving round each other”. He clearly enjoys creating these giant structures, and it’s commercial work of this sort that has allowed him to produce the war paintings that he describes as “my real journey. The two sort of run in parallel”. Cars often don’t get great press, thanks to a mix of environmental and social issues. So it’s perhaps ironic that the super-rich racing classic cars at a stately British home has allowed an artist whose worked for organisations like Amnesty International to produce some of his best-known work. “I think Goodwood is the only place where seriously exciting, adventurous sculpture is being done on this level,” he says.

Gerry Judah: Babylon at Flowers East

Snejana Krasteva, Curating the Words, 8 December 2009

Often buildings are not given time to decay. Many are interrupted by a sudden death and left fossilized in partial horizontality. Such violent anti-architectural gestures found in modern urban conflict zones, are meticulously reiterated in the paintings of Gerry Judah, whose solo exhibition Babylon is currently on view at the Flowers Gallery in London.

Judah’s works could be more accurately described as a hybrid between paintings, sculpture and architectural models. Near the death-spreading epicenter of the canvases, hang unnerving ruins of miniaturized settlements and buildings that have met their inglorious end. Parts are still erected but deprived of the direction builders would have given them. Instead, they come out horizontally from the canvas, and their bones stretch to meet our still breathing bellies – an ominous act but more likely, a disguised hope for human touch. They seem to menace the wholeness of our body with their dismembered communication remains, with the void at the end of the stairwells and the deafness of the satellite dishes. At the same time, their positioning on the canvas seems to follow the stillness of a photograph – it somehow allows emotional distance and contemplation from “above”. The physical threat and the psychological retreat that is offered, are as conflicting as the presence of so much absence, delivered in so many meticulously destroyed fragments.

Gerry Judah’s “dead zones” could be anywhere from the Middle East to Eastern Europe, from Baghdad to Belgrade.There is a similarity in death, despite being a unique moment in one’s life or the life of a building. But while his previous works Frontiers (2005), Angels (2006) or Motherlands (2007) were all executed in a ghostly white color, in this body of works he adds black and red. There is a distinct growth in emotions. What red has supplemented for, is the pain that is absent in his bloodless white cityscape of murdered ruins. Red is also limited only to his circular canvases, making them less perfect of a geometry, and more doomed in this human madness of modern warfare. In a sense, his paintings are a sculptural rendering of the otherness, the collapse of a unified society be it by language, religion or memory. God, in an act similar to Judah’s, destroyed the Tower of Babylon that its unified people were trying to build to reach heaven. With this injurious behavior, diversity was restored.

Gerry Judah has been working with this theme and materials for the past few years, each time convincingly depicting these unrecoverable urban landscapes. The political and aesthetic contents of those miniaturized aftermaths of war maintain their autonomous status on the canvas until the repetition loses its power to activate further political thought, and the visual takes over. Even then, saturation comes fast. And before it all becomes ruinous memory, it sadly occurs to us that the geometry of an interrupted and broken architecture is sometimes more telling about our contemporaneity than the intact architecture in which we live.

Gerry Judah: Babylon

David Yu, Art Slant, 6 December 2009

The Mesopotamia Babylon was one of the first global cities. The term “babel” (confusion set by multiple languages) originates from Babylon and the biblical story of the tower of Babel. The story goes that after the flood all of mankind spoke one language and decided to build a tower in Babylon to honor themselves, a monument that can attest to the feats of humankind. God was unhappy and dispersed everyone through the creation of language. The people could not understand each other to organize the build. Because of this, so much confusion ensued that everyone went their separate ways leaving Babylon and the tower to ruin.

Gerry Judah’s current exhibition at Flowers East shows a modern Babylon – more specifically, buildings structures with the look of 1970’s brutalist architecture left in ruination. The same post-apocalyptic, post nuclear fallout narrative is applied to all of the pieces on show. The only differences amount to the composition and the color. The work pulls the viewer very thin; it confuses by sitting the pieces between states of being a narrative, a compositional exploration, an architectural model (of dilapidation), a frozen vignette, a sculpture, and a painting. Perhaps the work embodies all these traits and also embodies the same conceptual framework that references the end of the tower.

The individual structures are massively impressive in their construction. The elegant lines created by the aerial antennas and communication cables leading from the tops of the buildings nicely conjures the dual imagery of an explosion of the 3D structure, when viewed from an angle, and an implosion into the picture plane, when viewed straight on. There is a nice tension being created by juxtaposing an extremely messy formation and muting it with a blanket coating of color. The installation of structures usually sat on a horizontal plane presented on vertical axis makes for a privileged birds eye view of the damaged areas. The paintings are almost like silent devastation photographs after the hurricane or post bombing, the difference obviously is that Judah has made the landscapes into hyper bas-relief. I suppose through the exhibition title one can assume that this is Judah’s maquette , for foreshadowing the demise of a capitalist world. “The higher the tower, the harder it falls”.

Modern Art of Destruction

Dan Carrier, Camden New Journal, 19 November 2009

Taking a sledge-hammer to a work of art that has taken you hundred’s of hours and buckets of perspiration may seem eccentric behaviour. But for Gerry Judah, wrecking the intricate models of cities he has built is the final stage of creating hard-hitting 3-D paintings that consider the effect our inhumanity has on the cities we call home. “It deals with contemporary war zones,” says the Highgate-based artist. And to create them he builds scale model cityscapes, complete with such detailing as individual homes with all the utilities they would need – then he smashes them to pieces, as if they had been targeted by bombers.

It is not the first time urban warfare has inspired artists – Picasso’s Guernica is perhaps the best-known example. Like Picasso, who was moved to create this work after the Nazi bombing of the Basque town, Gerry Judah acted to express his shock over the conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan. He considers the way a city is organically developed to become a place with a sense of its own identity, and then becomes a tangled mess. “I wanted to look at the devastation caused by modern conflict,” he says. “It is about how urban landscapes are destroyed, the impact of this and how it levels places.”Gerry Judah bases his models on a generic city – Beirut, Kabul, Baghdad – and the level of detail tells the story of his background: he is a renowned sculptor whose professional work has included building stage sets for Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin as well as film work. His work has won the praise of Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk who recalls the experience of being in Beirut after the Lebanese civil war had ended. “For years after the Lebanese civil war ended, I would prowl the ruins of downtown Beirut… to find that the poor had gravitated into the collapsed buildings, into the wreckage of dentists’ shops and post offices and stores,” he writes as an introduction to the exhibition.

“These troglodytes, whole families of them, had fled from their own ruins in southern Lebanon – bombed by the Israelis – to seek sanctuary in bigger ruins. They were there with their children and their grandparents, with a litter of precious pots and bowls and gas fires and damp bedding, gaunt in the winter cold as the rain guttered down the walls, sweating through the humid summers until the bulldozers came to drive them out.” He compares this to the ruins of Europe after the Second World War, but adds that Gerry’s paintings are strictly contemporary through their finer detailing. “The wires and satellite dishes speak of the death of the modern as well as of the past,” he states. “They are the destruction of Jenin and Baghdad, of the Iran-Iraq war, of Belgrade, great apartment and office blocks and TV stations. They lack the rubble-ised chaos of car bombings for they have been computerised to death. This is the vision on the screens of the Cruise missile, the last green TV silhouette of ‘targeted ruins’ – for the bomb-aimers of our latest wars are always reporting that there is no longer a ‘target-rich environment’ because all the targets have already been destroyed. “So they are bombing the ruins, turning the rubble, smashing up the last satellite dishes. What Judah’s work is saying is that these structures are now irredeemably gone, beyond repair, beyond re-creation.”

Memory

Robert Fisk , Babylon, October 2009

Ruins hide things. Not just the memory of what they were, but the memories they still contain. For years after the Lebanese civil war ended, I would prowl the ruins of downtown Beirut – as a journalist, of course, but truth forces me to admit that I was searching for something more than a reporter’s stories – to find that the poor had gravitated into the collapsed buildings, into the wreckage of dentists’ shops and post offices and stores. These troglodytes, whole families of them, had fled from their own ruins in southern Lebanon – bombed by the Israelis – to seek sanctuary in bigger ruins. They were there with their children and their grandparents, with a litter of precious pots and bowls and gas fires and damp bedding, gaunt in the winter cold as the rain guttered down the walls, sweating through the humid summers until the bulldozers came to drive them out.

Beirut, 1990. Berlin 1945. The irony that in the heart of Beirut, the city’s Dresden-like ruins lay along streets named after the victors of an earlier, infinitely more catastrophic war — Allenby, Clemenceau, Foch, Weygand (there was once a rue Petain) – quite eluded its new occupants. The memory of the ruins of seventy years earlier clung to the shattered, bullet-holed street signs bearing these portentous names amid a new set of ruins. But destruction moves with the times. The haunted streets of Beirut were crushed beneath Ottoman lintels and French mandate balconies.

Gerry Judah’s paintings – for that is what they are – are of a later age, the collapse of a new heritage of war, the wires and satellite dishes speaking of the death of the modern as well as of the past. Yes, they are the destruction of Jenin and Baghdad, of the Iran-Iraq war, of Belgrade, great apartment and office blocks and television stations – or so my imagination slowly works them out, for I see them every year — they lack the rubble-ised chaos of car bombings for they have been computerized to death. This is the vision on the screens of the Cruise missile, the last green television silhouette of ‘targeted ruins’ – for the bomb-aimers of our latest wars (at consoles in bunkers or on ‘gun platforms’, for we must use their clichés, mustn’t we?) are always reporting that there is no longer a ‘target-rich environment’ because all the targets have already been destroyed. So they are bombing the ruins, turning the rubble, smashing up the last satellite dishes. What Judah’s work is saying is that these structures are now irredeemably gone, beyond repair, beyond re-creation.

Of course, you can re-build; the medieval Cloth Hall at Ypres in 1918, the centre of 1944 Warsaw, indeed the re-constitution of the French streets in central Beirut today, but these are individual acts of defiance. And who would want to ‘save’ Judah’s images of destruction? Look at them carefully and find one which would have been worth saving, and there are none. For Judah’s structures – before he imaginatively broke them up — were modern, ugly, cheap, the product of an architect-less society (think Yugo, or even Baath party). I imagine some of them – before their decimation – as cheaply painted, full of empty, cracked offices and tired, unshaven bureaucrats and screaming, overcrowded families. One, all masts and giant chimney-like protuberances, might be a mortally wounded battleship, surrounded by its debris amid the waves. Without question, the ruins are more beautiful – and more frightening – than the buildings ever were before their demise.

And, make no bones about it – bones, after all, is what we are talking about, for we do not speak of the ‘skeletons’ of buildings without reason – they draw us into them. I have explored bombed embassies long after the weeds have taken over – I once found a NATO code-book behind the US embassy in Beirut years after the suicide bomber had finished with the place – and in Baghdad, in 2004, I walked with a friend into what was left of the ministry of information a year after its pulverisation. It was as ugly in life as some of Judah’s structures must have been before he set to work on them, all purple-painted and cheap tiles, dictator-chic, blessed now by a carpet of weeds – there really were some broken satellite dishes clinging to the tilting walls – but amid them was a vein of silver that moved in the breeze. With a friend, I clambered up a 10-foot pile of rubble and reached out to this skein of delicate but tough celluloid. I pulled and it unravelled down from broken walls and iron bars that poked from pre-stressed concrete, metre after metre of movie film. Some pieces were twenty feet long, others only a few inches. We held them to the light. Each frame showed dozens of soldiers, some with rifles, some without. It was old, monochrome stock, from 20 years ago. But here was the memory within the ruin, the genuine article, the real McCoy, the final proof that, yes, there was human life on earth.

Back in Beirut, that other city of ruins, I asked the projection assistant at my local Lebanese cinema to splice the film together and then I sat in the front row to watch. The pictures came up cinemascope-size on the screen above me. I knew at once who the unarmed soldiers were: Iranian prisoners of the Somme-like eight-year war between Saadam and the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranians bowed their heads and looked sideways at the camera. The Iraqi guards eagerly forced their prisoners to march back and forth in the heat. They were being humiliated, one army destroying another army. Then we supported Saddam – this was our victory that I was watching on the screen – and then we destroyed Saddam, which is how I laid hands on this film. Those soldiers, those prisoners were ruined men whose memory of suffering – unknown to them – had been preserved in the ruins of a later conflict, in a building destroyed a decade and a half after their war ended. This is what Gerry Judah’s work asks us: was there really human life on earth?

Robert Fisk is Middle East Correspondent of The Independent

Gerry Judah: Paintings

Michael Glover, 18 March 2009

When is a painting not exactly a painting? Gerry Judah’s paintings occupy an uneasily anxious zone mid–way between painting and sculpture. Given that their obsessive subject matter – and Gerry Judah is nothing if not obsessive – is the terrible aftermath of conflict, this uneasy occupation seems to rhyme with their meaning. They hang from the wall, but they are built out from it, weirdly, and in a way that, when we look at them, and peer down into them, as if with the eye of a bird or a drone, almost induces a sickening sense of vertigo. They seem to be clinging to the surface of the canvas as if by some miracle. They show us an entirely shattered zone of conflict, human habitations which have been pulverized almost out of existence. We recognise bits and piece of tottering, leaning, listing shapes. These were once fairly drab municipal buildings or apartment blocks. None of these structures was an object of beauty. Paradoxically, they seem to have gained a little more magnificence, a little more grandeur, in their extreme decrepitude, in the way in which they seem to be crying out to us for pity. Look to the left and to the right of these collapsing buildings, and you see that the surface of the painting is pitted with fragmentary shapes, scorings of lines, odd ribbings, some circular, others straight. Is this evidence of earlier human occupation? As you look, you dig in with the eye of the archaeologist, combing the surface for fragmentary evidence of what may once have been here. Paintings usually have a flat surface and traffic, often quite easily, in the nature of illusion. There is nothing easily illusory here. Everything is a bit betwixt and between.

Yes, everything is ruined and posthumous here; everything represents some terrible, settled aftermath of the destruction of normality. This desolation on an epic, if not a theatrical, scale. And yet there are no people here to testify to what seems to have happened. There is no smeary blood letting of any kind. Apartment blocks lean into each other, as if for support in their tribulations. Smashed aerials and satellite dishes hang awry. The buildings are often so close together, so hugger mugger, that we can often barely see between them, and sometimes when we do try, we peer down into shafts of near–darkness. Things look fossilized, fused, almost buried in the canvas. And these battered and bruised fragments of buildings have to stand in for the complete absence of any evidence of human suffering.

Judah works in two colours only, white and black. Most often white. Any other colour, you feel, would not be right for what he is endeavouring to do. Colour, variegated colour, is often a mighty distraction. It draws us off in different, and often quite serendipitous, directions. It seems to be playing many different tunes simultaneously. It introduces thoughts of the decorative. It invites us to single out, and then to separate, one thing from another, to play off this against that. It encourages different kinds of playfulness and levity.

Judah wants none of this. He strives for a certain undistracted wholeness of vision, a sharp, unrelieved, singular focus. So white enshrouds everything. It is the colour of Pompeian dust. It is the colour of ghostliness. It is the colour of a shroud. Yes, this white is enshrouding everything which is unspeakable, and it feels so eerie and hushed and set apart from us.

The paintings are of two shapes, rectangular and circular. The rectangle suggests the customary idea of the landscape. When we look at a rectangle, we fall into the idea of landscape – such is our cultural conditioning. With the circle it is quite different. With the circle, the eye finds it more difficult to come to rest. It has to be pinioned in some way, and Judah has pinioned one of these circular paintings by creating a formation of buildings in the shape of the symbol of the cross. We still see the same remnants of human habitation here, but they are aligned, symbolically, on a north–south, east–west axis. The atmosphere of this circular painting is quite different from that of the others. It seems to occupy a different kind of space. It feels, because of its shape, more globally marooned, more rootless, more islanded, more symbolic than actual, more iconic than pictorial.

All these paintings begin in model–making – in Gerry Judah’s studio in north London you can see the models lined up, made from foam board, all beautifully detailed, one behind another, a whole series of what look like rather dreary Eastern European – or perhaps Middle Eastern – apartment blocks. But this work is not about model–making. Model–making is merely its point of departure. After the models have been attached to the canvas, Gerry Judah then begins to destroy them – on the day I visited, he suddenly showed me how, with his clenched fist.

Yes, this is only the beginning. Then comes the real work – of adding plaster, paint, rubble, glazes until, having passed through the influence of Tapies, Rauchenberg and others, we begin to move much closer to the idea of the re–invented painting. Yes, this is, finally, as much what the work is concerned with: issues of texture, light, painted surface. But let us not forget the overwhelming sense of menace.

Frontiers

Greer Crawley, Space and Truth, 2009

Gerry Judah’s paintings reveal the constructed nature of representation. They have their own logic and reality. The considered placement of the debris and rubble and painterly manipulation of form, light and shadow are scenographic. ‘The rigour of the tectonic form is broken up, and while the wall crumbles and holes and fissures arise, a life quickens which quivers and shimmers over the surface…’ To create a convincing representation of a ruinous building, Judah recognises that the original model prior to his creative demolition must be structurally and organisationally accurate. As William Gilpin wrote ‘…to peel the facing from the internal structure-to show how correspondent parts have once united; though now the chasm runs wide between them and to scatter heaps of ruin around…are great efforts of art.’

Judah also understands that the remains of a modern building which has been demolished look different from an ancient one that has fallen into decay. The physics of demolition produces unique patterns and arrangements of rubble and modern building materials and infrastructures have their own ruinous vocabulary. Although ‘l’architecture c’est ce qui fait les belles ruines’ the end result is a painting – a composition woven from paint, card and wire. Threads are drawn out from the folded and crumpled fabric of the wrecked buildings. The fibres of defunct power lines and telecommunication networks bind together the collapsing structures. These former carriers of digital data become a physical calligraphy which inscribes the paintings with a catastrophic narrative.

In this ‘theatrum mundi’ of encrypted landscapes and fractured cities, the spectator is disorientated, the experience vertiginous. Temporal and spatial orientation is illusive. There is no fixed perspective, no horizon. The perceptual shifts in scale and location leave the spectator adrift –without signposts or coordinates. The taxonomy of the disaster-the exact nature or causation of the detritus and devastation is unspecified. The work exhibits the discontinuous change, hysteresis and divergent processes associated with catastrophe. These crushed and twisted planes occur when systems are pushed from equilibrium. It is the topology of entropy –the collapse of complex organisations and networks. Communication is severed, architecture dismembered, landscapes ruptured, the population displaced. This epidemiology of disaster creates ‘a wounded geography-the architectural, bodily and psychic wreckage caused by war.When a building is destroyed, there is a corresponding loss of history, memory and identity; both space and truth are concealed beneath the dust of demolition. In Judah’s studies of urban erasure, the desolation and emptiness are palpable. The stillness creates an aura of beauty but also uneasiness –we peer into the ruined structures looking for signs of life or evidence of death. The paintings become infected with psychic imaginings. ‘What had formerly been the city of Pompeii assumed an entirely changed appearance, but not a living one; it now appeared rather to have become completely petrified in dead immobility. Yet out of it stirred a feeling that death was beginning to talk…he, who possessed a desire for [a comprehension with soul, mind and heart] had to stand alone here…in order not to see with physical eyes nor hear with corporeal ears. Then-the dead awoke…’ We share our desire to awaken the dead with Benjamin’s angel of history whose ‘face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.’

In contrast to the angel who wishes to restore the wreckage, Benjamin’s ‘destructive character’ ‘sees nothing permanent…but for this very reason, he sees ways everywhere …What exists he reduces to rubble-not for the sake of rubble, but for the way leading through it.’ ‘The destructionist’ sees new relationships, juxtapositions and possibilities in ruination. Judah’s destruction may be a fabrication; an enacted event visited on inert materials but may also be the reality. The bodily presence of the artist and angel is felt in these performative works. Violence and its aftermath is recorded and documented-each work a representation of the forces of making and unmaking. Through these paintings we can reflect on the very real conditions of disaster and war while speculating on imaginary situations. These are psychic as well as material and physical constructs; studies in absence, disappearance, the building and unbuilding of space and truth.

Art for Bank Workers

Leah Borromeo, Sky News, 14 January 2009

Tucked away in a soulless building in Islington’s Upper Street is the unexceptionally named Business Design Centre – home to the 21st London Art Fair. Look on it as the Ideal Home Show for the art world. Not as slick or suave as Frieze, nor as flea market as the Affordable Art Fair. Of all the art fairs that vie for Londoners’ attention, this one is an unashamed melting pot of 112 galleries from Europe and the UK showing (okay, selling) 20th and 21st century art from the likes of Marc Chagall and LS Lowry to Banksy’s Bristol nemesis, Nick Walker.

The work ranges from £20 “high-quality, editioned video art” to a Henry Moore for a cool one million pounds – although when you start talking figures that sound like mortgages, the ticket on the label always reads “price on application”. Jonathan Burton, London Art Fair’s director, insists that the art market is still relevant despite a looming recession. He takes the phrase “art fair” quite literally. “Art is not for a wealthy elite. The reason we have such a mix of galleries, styles and projects is to prove you don’t have to spend a fortune to own something unique,” he says. He also suggests that a downturn could be the best time to start collecting: “Galleries are more flexible with price, something they wouldn’t have been a year ago.” The heaviness of economic uncertainty seems to waft away as the serious collectors stream in for the buyers’ preview – an art world convention or condescension depending on which end of the black you’re in. The conversation drifts from “hmm” to bandying numbers while omitting the words “thousand” or “million”. Polite nodding-a-plenty coupled with saccharine smiles and power-handshakes.

But what of the art? Modern masters and the contemporary canon. Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Sir Peter Blake for the former. Gavin Turk, Jeremy Deller, Rob and Nick Carter for the latter. Art that appeals to buyers who work for banks. Of this, Burton is unashamed: “City buyers are very important to us. They’re our best repeat customers.” The art school idea of using creativity to challenge and reflect the world you experience goes straight out the window here. That is, until you ascend a few staircases, meander through a few corridors and ascend a final set of stairs to Gerry Judah’s work.

Gerry’s work stabs you. Destroyed cityscapes turned on their side on paper and canvas – meticulously modelled down to inner stairwells and water-tanks. A passing electrician commented “It’s Gaza, innit?” Or anywhere wrecked by man or nature. Despite the obvious sculptural effect that harks to his Hollywood set design days, Judah calls these paintings. “They’re directly influenced by war zones from the Middle East to eastern Europe. I’m Jewish and my family comes from Baghdad. I set out to address a feeling, not an issue – I don’t like leading people by the nose. It’s political with a small ‘p’.” Your eye, your body, your mind – all wander through the monochrome of Judah’s deliberate dystopia. Repulsed at the grotesque yet magnetized by the beauty of detail. After spending the best part of two hours despairing that the word ‘art’ had gathered the unwelcome suffix ‘market’, seeing the fragile power of Judah’s work renewed a sense that art exists beyond art’s sake.

Gerry Judah at the Louise T Blouin Foundation

Tony McIntyre, Building Design, July 2007

Gerry Judah sees destruction, and is fascinated by what he sees – the way we all were when the towers came down. His paintings have their origins in aerial photographs, taken from the internet, of ruined houses in Palestine. You can see the formation of these paintings on Judah’s website, a film recording his own personal story of civilization: he makes the models, fixes them to the canvas, and then trashes them with blunt instruments and fire, finally coating the mayhem in gesso, encasing his dreams of destruction for later generations. This acknowledgement of the abstract beauty of destruction and decay brings to mind the collages of Villeglé, the unmaking of our world by human hands, only here it is not people tearing strips from métro posters but men with bombers and demolition machinery.

The fact that these works are inspired by photos is revealing. There is calmness about them. War from a distance gives one the space for aesthetic contemplation. At close quarters it’s nasty. Other artists (I’m thinking of Paul Nash) have represented both positions. Distance saps our concern with the human element. Il Duce’s eldest son Vittorio Mussolini famously described his frustrated aesthetic expectations while bombing Ethiopia: I was always miserable when I failed to hit my target, but when I was dead on I was equally upset because the effects were so disappointing. I suppose I was thinking about American movies and was expecting one of those terrific explosions when everything goes sky-high. Bombing these thatched mud huts of the Ethiopians doesn’t give the slightest satisfaction.

Judah is rightly insistent on calling these works abstract paintings, and references Malevich. With the paintings viewed from a distance this may be a valid comparison. But Malevich has planes and figures that you can’t pin down, they slip and slide around. Get near to Judah’s works and the elements are specifically identifiable: load bearing walls, water tanks, aerials, and no effort can disassociate them from their architectural roots.

The destruction looks at first sight like a local tragedy visited by an alien enemy. But the sheer excess of twisty cables – nobody has that many televisions – and frantic messiness, starts to suggest a mechanism – like a watch – that has been opened and whoops! – too late, its guts have sprung out, irrecoverably. So the workings of architecture are a delicate ideal state, fool with it at your peril: sproing! And then you see that, after all, this is a pretty good buzz. The artist is known for his commercial work – much of which involves modelling – so these paintings could be seen as backing away from that, step by step, and asking: when does it stop being commercial and start being art? Whether Judah worries about this or not, a lot of his critics seem to, yet the answer is obvious. It leaves the commercial world once it ceases to have a commercial purpose – it is essentially useless, and therefore meets the first requirement for art. It is then up to the viewer to decide whether it meets the second requirement: is it desirable? I think it is.

What D.H. Lawrence said of his own age, shortly after the First War, seems equally applicable now: Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen. This is Gerry Judah’s position. He manages to make something compelling of it.

Motherlands

Jenny Blyth, Curator – Louise T Blouin Institute, 2007

Contemporary artist Gerry Judah challenges the boundaries between painting and sculpture. His paintings are inspired by images of war zones—scenes from Iraq, the Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan – and born of Baghdadi grandparents, the title for this new series, Motherlands, reflects his sense of roots. Judah’s blanket ‘white’ and ‘blackouts’ have a levelling effect which enable him to cross cultural, political and religious divides. Ostensibly the artist is engaged with the detritus, the aftermath of conflict, but his paintings relate as much to an angry planet as they do to world politics. It is hard to engage with the work and not be reminded of the tsunami in Asia, the hurricane that submerged New Orleans, or a melting polar cap. Whether these scenes are a result of war or natural disaster, they raise existential questions. We are reminded of our vulnerability, our place in existence.

Following through from Frontiers (2005) and Angels (2006), Motherlands reflects the scenes that we witness daily as reported by the media. Twisted steel cabling amid the rubble of concrete where once stood homes and communities creates an abstracted and disturbing aesthetic. On close inspection one can pick out clearly the remnants of individual homes—walls are torn, staircases ripped out—but as one steps back the image dissolves into abstraction and a stillness ripples across the canvas. We are witness to a ‘ceasefire’; a moment frozen in time where there are neither survivors nor people left to fight.

Judah creates his landscapes from scores of miniature buildings, immaculately constructed from foam board, complete with solar panels, water towers and staircases, which he systematically destroys after fixing them onto canvas. The accumulated ‘rubble’, and the sea of empty white canvas on which it floats, is lacquered with layers of acrylic gesso to create ‘white on white’ abstract paintings. The presence of what has been removed is palpable. The ‘presence of absence’ reminds us of the house spirits of Rachel Whiteread worked into soft plaster, and the sense of abstracted embodiment created by Robert Ryman.

Judah’s work is full of contradictions, both conceptually and visually. He creates abstracted figurative paintings that are sculptural. Shadow and light created by the relief work are played out across the canvas as if it were a lunar landscape. Judah’s paintings have an unearthly quality—an ephemeral feel that he weaves into a stark reality. The purity and silence of the white, like virgin snow, is poignant given the darkness of the subject matter. He manages to create paintings that are both disturbing and beautiful.

Voices

David Littlefield, 2007

Gerry Judah is an artist for whom absence – in the sense of what was once there but is there no longer – is a generator for something positive. A ruin, the remains of signage which indicate a long-closed enterprise, an empty room . . . all prompt in Judah a heavy sense of what ought to be there, or could be there. His is not a mourning for what is past, and neither is it a sentimental position; instead, it is a reaching out towards what might have been the present. In Judah’s work, absence is depicted so strongly that it begins to make what is actually there almost a secondary consideration. Judah creates circular, self-reflexive arguments which chase themselves through layers of metaphor and reach no conclusion other than the fact that a question ought to be asked.

Judah’s work Angels (2006), a series of “paintings” which encroach upon the realm of relief and sculpture, depict buildings and settlements which have been subjected to sudden, apocalyptic attack. There is no suggestion of gradual decay; buildings have, instead, been violently stripped of both purpose and inhabitants. The imagery is that of war or the vagaries of nature, and human habitation is reduced to one of texture, a desolate and oddly picturesque event which interrupts an otherwise flat and absurdly featureless landscape. These are mesmerizing objects, spanning one’s understanding of what is real and unreal. These depictions of modern ruins, the obliteration of the ordinary and unremarkable, contain enough satellite dishes and water tanks to suggest, say, the wreckage of very real, bulldozer-led incursions; but the amount of cabling stretched between these broken buildings, indicative of electricity and telephony, is too contrived and subjective a composition to be mistaken for faithful reproduction. Instead, the cabling provides a gossamer-like directionality to what, at some distance, appears to be a delicate affair.

This work has been boiling away since the 1970s, when Judah graduated from Goldsmith’s College with a degree in fine art. It is a dangerous cliché to record the influences which bear upon the work of artists, as far too often these influences are either contrived or post-rationalized, but Judah had already developed a sensitivity to semi-ruinous buildings which permitted passers-by a glimpse into what were once private worlds. The physical remains (pictures hanging on walls, doorways opening onto spaces that are no longer there, fireplaces stranded high above the streetscape) became to Judah manifestations of stories, remnants of memory which could either be discovered or imagined. And then, in the 1980s, he was forced to vacate a studio in London’s Islington; the studio was demolished and, for a while, an interior wall covered in Judah’s notes and drawings was exposed to public view. “I was looking at myself,” he says.

To Judah, a man who challenges people to overlay artworks with their own prejudices and imaginings, buildings tell us little on their own. “What makes a building’s voice is not what it tells you, it’s what you can tell from it. You project, and you’ve got to make room for that.” The distinction is a crucial one. To Judah, a visitor is never an observer of a building, submitting to its signals and signs; visitors are, instead, participants in the life of a building and they have to do a little work if they are to “hear” anything at all. Brecht-like, Judah expects us to engage in an active sort of listening, one that goes beyond mere hearing. And that listening is one which is loaded with the weight of people’s personal and collective memory. Moreover, Judah describes a way of listening that must be handled responsibly, otherwise one might encounter only what one expects to hear.

Judah has conducted a number of studies of Nazi concentration camps, notably as research for the scale model model of Auschwitz-Birkenau he created for the Imperial War Museum in 2000, and he has therefore spent a considerable amount of time measuring, looking, listening and “feeling” his way through these emotionally-charged spaces. To Judah, however, these places do not speak powerfully; simply being present at the location of the Holocaust provides no experiential trace of the event itself. After his visits, he wrote the following: “While I expected to be overwhelmed with horror, I was simply numbed. There is little resonance of evil in what has been left behind. The place was not designed to express its purpose – like a church or a bank – but, on the contrary, to conceal it. The scatter of shoddy buildings that survive does not make a setting for extreme evil. If you passed the place you probably wouldn’t notice it. Even the gatehouse, one of the icons of 20th century terror, is a rather small utilitarian brick building.”

“I felt numb – but not unmoved,” says Judah, who was, however, most emotional in the empty synagogues of Krakow; where there should have bustle, and noise, and life, there was quiet. “This lack of voices, this absence, was very profound.”

Judah’s work is an exploration of the chain reaction of metaphor (“Everything is a metaphor for something else.”) and nothing represents itself. Absence suggests presence, and what is present is open to interpretation. Judah’s is an enquiry into the possibilities of ambiguity. His paintings in the Angels series present ruined spaces as textures and images are not named. He has been accused of beautifying war, especially with regard to his similar collection Frontiers (2005), which tackled similar ground but was more overtly inspired by the remnants of conflict; there is something in this, but any beauty in these works is purely the invention of the spectator. The paintings in Angels are stripped of colour and humanity; they are either black or white. If there is a predetermined viewpoint at all, it is one of a spy-plane or a Google Earth depiction and, as such, these objects are open to interpretation; they beg meaning to be applied to them.

In 1830 Sir John Soane commissioned Joseph Gandy to paint an image of the Bank of England (one of Soane’s masterpieces) as a ruin. The image is an ambiguous one – it is simultaneously a Romantic vision of London as the future Rome (where people may come to wonder at the achievements of a lost civilization) and a technical drawing, illustrating the spatial arrangements and construction of the building. Like an architectural model, this image shows more clearly than any set of plans and sections how this building actually worked. It is both poetry and technical information. Judah’s Angels have much the same ambiguity. They do not show what ruins look like – they show, instead, how one might imagine ruins. Gandy does the same thing – he depicts walls that are evidently strong enough to withstand calamity, but he also populates the site with arches of unlikely slenderness. It is as if the site has been unpicked, not ravaged, and it is difficult to know quite how to respond. This is the ambiguity that lies at the heart of Angels – these sites, too, have been unpicked, and it was a selective havoc which befell these places. Load-bearing walls have been swept away, but satellite dishes remain.

Like absurd buildings which have lost their facades, leaving doors and wallpaper and plumbing hanging in mid-air; like the Holocaust sites; Judah’s Angels are diagrams, emblems, of a state. And what is that state? What exactly are these places? What is their status, these non-buildings? What do they want and what do they want us to think of them? They stare blankly and say nothing. One has to work very hard to find a response and apply a meaning.

Reality-Check

Jay Merrick, Goodwood Magazine, 2006

The British tend to distrust those who excel at more than one thing. If Stirling Moss had been revealed as having had a hugely successful second life as a covert existential philosopher called Maxim Neubauer [note: Alfred Neubauer was his manager at Mercedes; a sly joke], his reputation as one of the most sublimely gifted racing drivers of all time might have been jeopardised. But among the acutely talented characters who are invariably in the mix during the Goodwood Festival, at least one has dared to reveal a second strand to their creativity.

Gerry Judah is known to thousands of Festival regulars as the man who produces the high-drama motorsport sculptures that help give Lord March’s weeks a literally fantastic lift-off. In this guise, he’s a kind of entertainer. A few dozen people may know that he studied art at Goldsmiths and appeared in a 1975 Best of Young British Sculptors show at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. But only a handful are au fait with the fact that Judah has returned to his original creative font to produce an extraordinary series of urban landscape paintings, which he calls Frontiers.

In doing so, he’s exposed himself to the kind of emotional and critical risk that has rarely impacted on his many years as a leading opera and film set designer for directors including Ridley Scott and Russia’s greatest postwar cinema visionary, Andrei Tarkovsky. The Frontiers series pose extraordinary challenges for the artist, in terms of sheer craft and compositional skill. Viewers, too, are on their mettle, propelled into a world – part fact, part fiction – of startling ambiguity.

Frontiers concerns the rupture of places, lives and architecture by violence. To stand before these big canvases, and their astonishingly delicate collages of desolated urban fabric drawn from places such as Jenin and Mostar, is to experience the ghostly complexities of a present without a past – and no apparent future. But Judah delivers these scenes in a way that is humane, rather than miserably vacant. Despite the raw subject matter, there is hope here, a sense of obdurate survival, a return of life.

Judah cites the swirling, late–period sea storm paintings of JM Turner as an inspiration – human striving in the grip of violent natural forces, a 19th century art right on the edge of artistic incoherence. One can also link Judah’s new work to Anselm Kiefer (the Athanor and Ngalfar visions spring to mind) or to Jasper John’s pale and mysterious Usuyuki or White Flag paintings.

But this art–historical box ticking seems too tidy. Judah’s painstakingly applied layers of Lascaux [correct] acrylic gesso lie like ash on his canvases and their fidgety accretions of thread and extruded foam. Their atmosphere, and pregnant stillness, recall the last lines of James Joyce’s short story, The Dead, when ‘snow was general all over Ireland . . . His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

The Frontiers series (the first collection sold out at a show in Hoxton before Christmas) possess an equally delicate poetic nuance. They invoke the presence of absence, as the Ground Zero [caps correct] architect Daniel Libeskind puts it. Judah gives us a series of incredibly detailed stop–frames of places that are, in fact, collages of more than one town or village. This silent scenography, concerning the shattered remains of violence in the Middle East, offers no script, just momentary visions.

The sterile whiteness of Judah’s vistas, the dove–grey shadows and the strangely exquisite details of ruin nudge the viewer into an uncomfortable sensualism. The eye scans these scenes almost like the camera in the nosecone of a smart–bomb. One looks, with a mixture of guilt and expectation, for a tiny, target–locating laser bead razoring its implacably precise way across the surfaces of these breached walls, regurgitated air–conditioner units, rubble, and skewed television aerials.

There are no cars to be seen, no stick–people. An aura of loss pervades these little streets and alleys, overlaid by a conflicting sense of both finality and possibility. And we’re left to consider the wrecked architecture of these cut–and–pasted places as an abstracted textural vision whose history is familiar to us through years of media images, which we often ignore. The places in these paintings have no identity. And, as we consider them, our own identities are on hold, too.

Judah has given us wreckage as artistic archetype. But if we’re tempted to recall the idealised 18th century architectural decays of Piranesi, we quickly remember that in Iraq and the West Bank destruction is sudden and beyond ordered description. The Frontiers series throws up another possibility: are war–zones supplying the raw material for a new Picturesque art whose ghostly surfaces never quite settle in the centre of our vision?

In the 19th century, the art and social commentator John Ruskin defined the essence of the Picturesque as a ìsublimity not inherent in the nature of the thing, but caused by something external to it.î He championed the rough, contrived irregularity of corresponding forms and materials, the faux–ruins favoured by the gentry, and the parasitical relationship between the man–made and the natural. Is there something parasitical about looking at Judah’s paintings? One pores over the details of the new series looking for signs of life. There is more clear space on the new canvases, and something almost submarine about their new formality; the buildings suggest fractured hulls, and Judah talks of angel motifs.

His compulsion to pursue this subject matter was set up by the model of the Auschwitz death–camp that he created for the Imperial War Museum’s Holocaust exhibition in 2000. But it was only when he saw television footage of Jenin last year that he began, obsessively, to pull hundreds of images of Middle Eastern war–zones from the Net. ìI became a war artists who didn’t go to war,î he said. ìWorking on these paintings is paradoxical. You’re listening to your CDs. You’re making sure that these places are growing out of the canvas. It colonises your soul, because it’s not just about the gesso and the texture – it’s about destruction.

Not a cut–and–dried destruction, though. Not a destruction with neat edges, or a fixed time–frame, or one tied to a precise chain of cause–and–effect. Judah’s paintings are not petrified dead–ends. They are expressions of pure – no, make that impure phenomenology. And they are also an antidote to the kind of postmodern knowingness and irony that we might experience from the art world’s most brutally sardonic scenographers of the weird, the Chapman Brothers.

Judah’s paintings are a kind of anti–matter to what the great Swiss architect Peter Zumthor says about lives being increasingly dominated by ambiguity – ìeverything merging into everything else, and mass communication creates an artificial world of signs. Arbitrariness prevails. Postmodern life could be described as a state in which everything beyond our own personal biography seems vague, blurred, and somehow unreal. The world is full of signs and information, which stand for things that no one fully understands because they, too, turn out to be mere signs for other things.

The power of the Frontier series transcends the abstraction of their bricolage of urban signs. They engage the eye, and mind, with direct force. The signs and shapes on the canvases may be physically confused, yet there’s something about them that, against the odds, seems true rather than false. Looking at them is like stumbling across archaeological remains that could ultimately be made sense of, and perhaps even redeemed in some way.

Frontiers is a series of artistic fictions which has nothing to do with trendy takes on virtuality or the ephemeral. Even if we barely notice the streets and buildings around us in our daily lives, the bizarre urban Braille of Judah’s surfaces stop us in our tracks. These paintings are not connected to globalism, corporatism, or modes of consumption. They remind us instead of micro, rather than macro conditions, and of what the brilliant Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas refers to as “that eerie abstraction of the generic.î They also happen to be proof against the extraordinary findings of researchers at the Massacheusetts Institute of Technology who discovered that the detail of digital images is not retained in memories for more than fourteen days. The scenes in Frontiers – produced by questioning hands, rather than pixelated via software – are hard to shake off; they stick, they haunt.

Gerry Judah’s luminous urban crusts are the beginning of a provocative body of work – a series of big asks, without easy answers. Compelling and timely, Frontiers marks out a new genre of abstract expressionism that is absolutely not, as Peter Zumthor put it, mere signage for other things.

Jay Merrick writes on architecture and art for The Independent, and ArtReview magazine.

Horror of War in Sharp Relief

Michael Glover, The Independent, 9 November 2005

When you try to bring to mind the most memorable renderings of the horrors of war – think of the paintings of Francisco Goya or Otto Dix, for example – two elements seem to be held on some kind of terrible, nerve-tingling balance: the human and the non-human. There is the corpse, and then there is the blasted landscape – which may be a messy combination of the built and the natural – in which the person perished. The two belong together. They make sense of each other. They exist in an endless, horror-struck embrace.

Gerry Judah’s subject matter is war and its terrible aftermath, too, but the art works in this show do away with the human element altogether. They merely show us the devastation. Judah has made a series of wall-mounted constructions, 13 in all, from foam-board and acrylic gesso on canvas. These are landscapes – even landscape paintings, if you like, except that they really exist in some hybrid worlds between paintings, sculpture and architectural modelling.

All 13 of these pieces are miniaturised renderings of human settlements of one kind or another that have been pulverised by war. Each one is built up and out from the surface – we stare, fascinated, at buildings, that are falling in on themselves like packs of cards. There are collapsed walls, ruined sheds, stairways going nowhere, flung oil drums, corrugated-iron doors, or lengths of electricity cables, stretched and twisted like barbed wire, or some martyr’s crown of thorns, and rendered wholly useless.

We stare at all this, examining each painful detail bit by bit, we seem to be looking directly, almost vertiginously, down from above, from the viewpoint of some idling bird perhaps. Or, more soberingly, from the viewpoint of that pilot who dropped the bomb that did the damage, and then passed calmly on. And this act of looking seems to make us complicit with the act itself, and with the action of the brutish pulveriser.

The details themselves are very small, if not tiny, and that disturbs us, too, because we are so accustomed to the idea that a miniaturised thing – whether it be a model car, a china ornament or doll’s house furniture – must almost inevitably charm us. In fact, these constructions, in their scale and their fussiness, might well have been executed by a child, had their subject matter not been quite so baleful and unsavoury.

Each “Frontier” shows us a slightly different devastated human settlement. Consequently, the rhythms of each one is slightly different. In one, the settlement makes a quick, broken, sweeping curve. The rest of the surface area is the unnerving silence of the white space of a rather rubbly or pockmarked texture. In another, apartment blocks, as they fall, seem to shunt into each other like derailed trains.

There is no colour in any of this. The patina of each one is identical to all the others. Each surface is a dusty off-white. It is an almost puzzlingly unnatural colour, this ghostly absence of colour. So much devastation, and yet not a trace of colour. Not the least taint of blood. The settlements themselves feel marooned and abandoned amid so much whiteness.

And all of these works – each one a kind of obsessive variant of the next, like some terrible facial tic of which one cannot possibly hope to rid oneself – hang above a somewhat stained concrete floor, glared at by suspended lights, set against bare, breezeblock walls. The building itself feels very still. The only sound is a faint drip-dripping of water from somewhere, it could be near, it could be far. And even that seems vaguely ominous, heavy with more meaning than it probably deserves.

Return to the Conflict Zone

Jay Merrick, Art Review, August 2005

Gerry Judah’s remarkable new series of paintings ‘Frontiers’, concerns the rupture of places, and architecture, by violence. To consider these big canvases and their delicate collages of desolated urban zones in places such as Jenin and Mostar, is to experience the ghostly complexities of a present without a past, and with no apparent future.

The layers of Lascaux acrylic gesso lie like ash on the canvas, thread and extruded foam, reminding us of the last lines of James Joyce’s short story ‘The Dead’ and of that moment when ‘snow was general all over Ireland…His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon the living and the dead.’

The sterile whiteness of Judah’s scenography, the dove-grey shadows and the peculiarly exquisite details of ruin nudge the viewer into amoral sensualism; the eye scans these scenes almost like the camera in the nose cone of a smart bomb; one looks, with a mixture of guilt and nihilism, for a tiny, target-locating laser beam razoring its implacably precise way across the surfaces of these skewed walls, the regurgitated air-conditioner units, the rubble and the television aerials.

There are no cars in these scenes, no tiny stick-people. The nature of loss implicit in these little streets and alleys is compromised by a sense of utter finality, and we are left to consider the wrecked architecture of these cut-and-pasted places as a textural vision whose history is known to us through media images which, after decades, we often ignore. The places in these paintings have no identity. And, as we consider them, our identities are on hold, too.

Wreckage as archetype. But if we are tempted to recall the idealised architectural decays of Piranesi, we quickly remember that in Iraq and the Palestinian West Bank, destruction is sudden and beyond ordered description. The ‘Frontiers’ series, a work in progress currently being monitored by gallerists in New York and London, throws up another ruthless idea. Have war zones supplied the conditions for a new Picturesque art?

In the 19th Century, Ruskin defined the essence of the Picturesque as a ‘sublimity not inherent in the nature of the thing, but caused by something external to it.’ He championed the rough, contrived irregularity of corresponding forms and materials, to produce a faux-savage and parasitical relationship between the man-made and the natural. The only parasite in Judah’s studio is the viewer. One pores over the details of ‘Frontiers’ – there are seven works so far – as if this might mediate the original violence of his scenes. Judah’s return to painting follows years of success in film and opera set design and large-scale sculptures for clients including Lord March. He has also worked for Andrei Tarkovsky and Ridley Scott Associates. Several months ago, he felt compelled to produce the ‘Frontiers’ series – not as a point of creative departure, but a return to fine art roots which, after Goldsmiths and the Slade, gave him a place in 1975’s selection of Young British Sculptors at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

The new work is riven with the tensions embodied in the model of the Auschwitz death-camp Judah created for the Imperial War Museum’s Holocaust Exhibition in 2000. When he saw photographs of Jenin in January, he culled hundreds more images from the net. “I became a war artist who didn’t go to war. Working on these paintings is paradoxical. You’re listening to your CDs. You’re making sure that these places are growing out of the canvas. It colonises your soul, because it’s not just about the gesso and the texture – it’s about destruction.”

And JMW Turner. One can link Judah’s new work to Anselm Kiefer – the artist’s 1997 book Lieber Rot Als Tot (‘Better Red Than Dead’) springs to mind – or to Jasper John’s pale and mysterious ‘Usuyuki’ prints (1978-81) or ‘White Flag’ paintings (1955 – 58), but Turner’s wildly swirling seascapes is where Judah is ultimately coming from. The power radiated by Judah luminous urban crusts have nothing to do with nature, however, and everything to do with the impure forces of cultural viciousness. The work is a big ask without an answer. It is, though, extremely gripping.

Gerry Judah: Central Diplays

Jonathan Glancey, 10 Years of Goodwood Festival of Speed, The Guardian, 2005

Time, like Spitfires and angels, flies. I first met Gerry Judah in the baroque gloaming of St James’s, Piccadilly ten years ago. Beyond the pin-drop quiet red brick and Portland stone-trimmed walls of the seventeenth century Wren church, time flew furiously fast on the hurrying wings of effin’ and blindin’ black cabs, gargling Routemasters, sod-you motorcycle messengers, self-righteous cyclists and pavement-bound office workers trying their best to beat Sir Roger Bannister’s sub-four minute mile. This urban chaos, although as raucous as a rookery, could be taken, I suppose, as a symbol of our right to freedom, something denied to countless millions of people living in the dark shadows of unpleasant political regimes worldwide. Inside the church, Judah showed me a glowing model of a human rights sculpture he hoped to build for Amnesty International; two, in fact, one in London, the other in Sheffield. One was to have been made of wood, the other in steel. Both would have measured 23 metres high and 22 metres wide. Rising on either side of an angled pole, great wings were to have been laced with hundreds of electric candles stretched out as if to embrace those walking below. The model was impressive. Although verging on the wild side, it was, nevertheless, a quieting design, asking us to light a collective candle to all of those who lack the basic freedoms we all but take for granted. Just as we light candles alone in the aisles of darkened churches for our own private causes, so we might light candles on a citymatic scale for a global cause. Ten years on, such sculptures would be even more relevant, as is the shamanistic talent of Gerry Judah himself.

Best known for the exuberant sculptural displays of racing cars commissioned by Lord March and put on display each year in front of Goodwood House for the annual Festival of Speed, Judah is, under his magician’s mask, and at the bottom of a deep well of funny jokes, a reflective fellow, a humanist with a genuine love of human foibles, but with an equally wary eye on the easy ways in which humanity allows itself to slip from folly to spite, and brute inhumanity. The model he made of a train unloading Jews and other Nazi undesirables at Auschwitz for the Imperial War Museum’s Holocaust Exhibition in 2000 is one of the very finest things this jack-of-all-creative-trades has made. It looks almost innocent, with the entire scene, accurate to a disturbing fault, coated in white paint. Hundreds of tiny, individually modelled people are seen going off to their deaths, either in the gas chambers or through forced labour, as if, in Judah’s words, “they are queuing for a bus or a football match.” That memorable phrase forged by the German-American political scientist, Hannah Arendt – “the banality of evil” – jackboots its way to mind. Tilt human beings one way and they can behave like devils; tilt them another, and they are can be close to angels. Crowd-pulling events can be agents of evil, as Nazi party rallies were, or expressions of unfettered delight like the Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival. Judah straddles the concerns of these two worlds in his work; yet even when he is working in human shadowlands, he brings light and beauty to the fore, as he did with the Humans Rights sculpture model in St James’s Piccadilly eight years ago, as he does every year at Goodwood. And as he does, too, in all his extraordinary projects from stage sets to bridges.

I think of Gerry Judah as a magician. His north London workshop, a crowded cabinet of curiosities, a wizard’s lair, is full of props and devices that a man of magic might use in some smoke-and-mirrors show. Equally, Gerry’s lap-top computer is filled with images that pop up on screen in ways that make you gasp and stretch your eyes. This showman has indeed worked for stage and screen, for rock bands, operas and motors shows. His is a theatrical design talent, yet one with depth as well as dazzle. His background explains much. It is as dramatic as his Goodwood sculptures. His family came, somewhere down the line, from Baghdad via Burma to settle for a while in India. He was born in Calcutta and grew up in West Bengal before his father decided to move to London when Gerry was sixteen. The colours and sheer eventfulness of Bengal life seared themselves into the back of his eyes. He remembers West Bengal as a glorious confusion of temples, synagogues and mosques, of hanging candelabras, painted faces, bright spinning tops, gods with many arms, worshippers throwing coloured dyes at one another on spectacular holy days. He talks fondly of ink-black skies laden with stars, of ornate buildings laced with flickering lanterns and fairy lights. He remembers Hindu-Muslim riots that left corpses floating in flooded streets, of his Uncle Baby’s bright red Jeep adorned with white-walled tyres. He can still sniff the exaggerated smell of local flower markets. London, damp and grey – deep under snow, in fact – came as a profound shock to the sixteen year old school leaver.

With no connections, and very much out of context, Gerry hoboed his way through jobs in kitchens, hospitals, in fisheries and on roadworks, before taking a double-first in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and a post-graduate degree in Sculpture at the Slade. Side-stepping into the world of production design for, among others, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera and the National Theatre, Gerry flicked into the design and construction of film sets, stage sets and promo videos for rock bands, TV commercials, the Human Rights sculpture project, and then, in 1997, a first commission from Lord March for a celebration of Ferraris at Goodwood. The Goodwood displays really took wing in 2000 with a display of racing Jaguars, starting with a C-Type, hanging at improbable angles from a cat’s cradle of tautly suspended wires. Mirrors on the ground allowed visitors to gawp into the cockpits of these scalding Coventry cats without cricking their necks; a gentle addition to an otherwise roller-coaster display.

A year later, Gerry placed a lone Mercedes-Benz 300SL at the summit of a swooping 25-metre high sculpture, as if the car was some mechanical high-diver on its precipitous trajectory down from vertiginous board to pool below. It would wrong to say it, so I will, but this truly memorable design suggested a scene from one of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympiad films – Festival of the People, Festival of Beauty – made for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The magnificent Mercedes looks set to conquer all comers. Today, Goodwood; tomorrow, the world. Was this intentional, or subliminal? Who knows? One of the great things about the Goodwood sculptures is their sheer uninhibited quality. Apolitical, they are nevertheless designed to challenge as well as delight visitors to the summer events, just as the cars and drivers here do, too. They are not meant to be anodyne. And with Gerry Judah at the model-making bench, they never could be. The 2001 Mercedes sculpture was all but explosive. Donner und blitzen, in fact. As Gerry recalls, “nearing the completion, I received a call at seven-thirty in the morning from a fabricator. He reported a mother of all storms heading for Sussex and enquired if we’d fitted a lightning rod to the structure. I didn’t know, but started thinking about a Mercedes Gullwing full of inert gas being struck and everything, including the house, going up. An hour later, a van with a lightning rod was speeding to Goodwood with the storm chasing behind.” The 2004 sculpture celebrates, on the face of things, a more serene occasion: 100 years of Roll-Royce. Henry Royce’s V12 R engine takes pride of place under the streamlined bonnets of a record breaking car, boat and aircraft hoisted high into the Sussex sky. The R engine morphed into the wartime Merlin which powered the Spitfires and Hurricanes that kept the Nazi invasion of Britain at bay and which, joyously, still thunder and roll over Goodwood today in displays that are one of the highpoints of the summer festivals. Flying at angels’ height, these metal and fabric winged guardians, powered by mechanical sorcery, and helped keep us safe in 1940. Gerry Judah’s own designs have some of the same dark, angelic quality, soaring up on wings in celebration of human festivity, and folly. The Goodwood sculptures show what this latter day Merlin can do, reaching for the sky and aiming, perhaps further, for the improbable and mythical. As long as he keeps at it at Goodwood, it would be a good thing to see Gerry Judah’s wings spread wider to keep us all thinking and gasping, just as racing drivers and the crowds following them do as a D-Type, 250F Maserati or 7-litre Ford Galaxy aims for the squealing apex of Woodcote Corner.

Judah’s Piece

Mick Walsh, Goodwood Magazine, 2002

From inauspicious beginnings in 1993, the Festival of Speed’s central display has grown, year-by-year, into the most elaborate and imaginative automotive sculpture anywhere. Welcome to the world of Gerry Judah

Fine art and motor sport is an unlikely association but nothing has ever been predictable about the high-octane spectacle of the Goodwood Festival of Speed. One feature, the centrepiece presented in front of the elegant Regency house has become the signature of this stylish event. Weeks before the gates open, there is great anticipation among motor sport fans. What has Lord March’s talented team dreamt up this year?

Walk up from the packed car parks and the buzz among visitors is electric as they discuss the latest dazzling presentation. Turn the corner over the last six years and you can hear cameras and jaws click at the sight of vertical Porsches, spiralling Jaguars and high-flying Auto Union. The man behind these unique feature displays is Indian-born sculptor Gerry Judah. From a miniature model of a WWII concentration camp to art bridges by the River Thames, Judah’s diverse works are intended to stimulate the human spirit wherever presented. Channelling his artistic vision and skill into the Festival of Speed was just one of Lord March’s ideas that have set the event apart.

Born in Calcutta, Judah grew up in West Bengal before his father moved to London in the 1960s. “He would often sketch for us at the kitchen table and he taught me how to draw,” recalls Judah. After leaving school at 16, Judah took on various menial jobs – a porter in a fishery and a supermarket stock room attendant – before studying fine art at Goldsmiths. A double-first class degree in sculpture took him to the prestigious Slade School for a distinguished postgraduate course. “I wanted to create heroic sculptures inspired by the monumental land pieces of American artists like Robert Smithson and Richard Serra. Unfortunately my projects were so big they needed funding. To raise money I started working in the theatre, building scenery for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera and the National Theatre. But ultimately I found building something that was subservient to a story frustrating. I was just too egotistical for the theatre!”

A new direction in rock videos working with Godley and Creme, formerly of the rock band 10cc, proved more rewarding: “Rather than being limited to a room set of a play, their art direction gave greater freedom to explore the theme of a song.” Next came sets for TV commercials working with, among others, photographer and director David Bailey. Judah’s talent for model making was also in demand with ad agencies and for Smirnoff he created a series of spoof mosaics for a massive poster campaign. Later came exciting movie work on the set of Batman where he produced a dazzling line of architectural collages to create Gotham City. “All this work harnessed different disciplines and I greatly enjoyed collaborating with diverse talents – engineers, lighting men, graphic designers and cameramen.”

As rewarding as these projects were, Judah’s true passion was pure sculpture on a grand scale. Then in 1997 came a commission from Charles March for that year’s Ferrari celebration. “They’d had an idea of a huge, triumphant arch with a Grand Prix car hanging inside. Knowing of my film set work, Charles wanted me to make it,” recalls Judah. The success of his design and construction led to free rein the following year for a Porsche display.

“I hate pastiches and wanted to create something that really stretched the imagination just as these racing cars had done. These fantastic machines had been pushed to the limit in competition and I felt you needed to exhibit them in that fashion.” For the 1999 Jaguar display the talk was of traditional production car values, of leather and walnut, but Judah was determined to celebrate the British marque’s epic sporting heritage. “Great Le Mans racers like the D-type were all about spectacle, so I had this idea of cars balanced in the air, flying with cables. I went away, made a model and everyone loved it.”

The Mercedes display was a favourite with Judah but the original plan was quite different. “I wanted to create a wall of water, with cars mounted at the top and water shooting up at them but the costs were prohibitive. So I asked Mercedes to give me one ultimate machine that I could make look like an icon. The idea started with a pure ellipse that appeared to launch one car into the air. The support engineering hidden inside high-tensile fabric also reflected the car’s design.” The original choice for the centrepiece was the spectacular 300SLR coupé, one of just two priceless machines originally built for the brilliant Mercedes racing engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut. When the directors realised what Judah had planned for the 1955 supercar they refused and a private enthusiast’s Gullwing was generously substituted. It didn’t matter. The final effect, particularly when illuminated at night with this sensational production model shooting up to the stars, was another Festival high point.

The build up at the Festival of Speed can be really scary, claims Judah: “The weather can be problematic and its frustrating trying to patch up the muddy grass after heavy rain, but the worst thing is having a client whose window is right behind the work! Often it can take half a day to put one car into position and during that time I could get 25 phone calls from Charles March asking ‘Why is it taking so long?’ There is a point where I have to let go and leave it to the engineers.”

The spectacular Audi celebration with Auto Union streamliner and Avus concept car flying high on dazzling steel banking provoked lots of headaches. Restorers Crosthwaite and Gardner, who recreated the sensational 1937 Auto Union record car, were firmly against the proposal on arrival and everyone that day from crane operator to fabricator had a point of view. “Charles and I stood there, watching terrified.”

During pre-event assembly, the Jaguar display looked wrong until Judah realised one car was positioned the wrong way round, but the engineers worked all night to reposition it. More minor problems have been escaping fluids once the cars are in position. Display vehicles are drained on the flat but when suspended on end something inevitably starts to leak. Now extra precautions are taken before positioning. “We’re indebted to the trust that owners and museums place with us; without that, such works would never happen.”

Last year’s spectacular Mercedes tribute resulted in the scariest moment in Judah’s six-year association with the Festival of Speed. “Nearing completion during build up I received a call at 7.30 in the morning from a fabricator. He reported a mother of all storms heading for Sussex from the west coast and enquired if we’d fitted a lightning rod to the structure. I didn’t know but started thinking about a Mercedes Gullwing full of inert gas being struck and everything, including the house, going up. An hour later a van with a lightning rod was speeding to Goodwood with the storm chasing behind. Thankfully we got it up in time.”

Gerry Judah’s association with Charles March goes back to the 1980s when involved with studio sets and models. “He was the only photographer that gave us lunch, and it meant a great deal to be invited into his home. The situation hasn’t changed, and when I leave urban London in my old Daimler and drive through that fabulous countryside to Goodwood, I always feel inspired. The Festival is a remarkable showcase and it’s wonderful that he has the vision to trust me. Working with such celebrated marques is a great honour.”

Designs for the Festival of Speed centrepiece are a closely guarded secret, only seen by the event team, engineers and manufacturer. This year, Renault’s heritage has inspired a new direction for Judah. For the first time the structure will feature colour and again high speed is the inspiration. Over 600 cantilevered steel tubes will support a clutch of F1 racers in another sensational presentation.

The Festival has introduced Judah to the creative possibilities of the motoring world and his ambition is to break the convention of manufacturer’s presentations at international motor shows. “I’d love to put the cars in a totally different context and really fire the imagination of visitors. Car commercials are now very surreal and it would be fascinating to bring that approach to motor shows. Volvo’s marketing team invited me up to Göteborg and I came up with some dramatic ideas celebrating the alchemy of the car. Using ice, water, sound and light, I wanted to create a fantastic interactive environment where you might not even see a car. Imagine such a facility under a lake with a fabulous hotel and beautiful cars presented in glass.” With the creation of Volkswagen’s dramatic Autostadt Centre, Judah’s ideas are not so far fetched. Impressed by his work at Goodwood, the National Motor Museum is Judah’s latest client. “As with the Festival I wanted to capture the dynamic energy of these historic cars and present them in an exciting way, but that’s a challenge in an indoor space without the atmosphere of an event. Rather than just coming to admire the cars, I wanted visitors to experience something not found in a book or video.” First stage in Beaulieu’s revitalization is a dramatic 26-vehicle motor sport display with historic racing cars at spectacular angles. “Without Goodwood’s vision,” acknowledges Judah, “such ambitious presentations like this would never have been possible.”

Auschwitz Model

Gerry Judah, 2001

Two years ago, the Imperial War Museum approached me to make a miniature representational model of Auschwitz-Birkenau for their forthcoming Holocaust Exhibition. This model was to focus on the selection ramp where trains pulled up on a specially built spur line to discharge prisoners to virtually certain death. The purpose of the model was to be educational. It was not to be a memorial. The brief was to make it no longer than 12 metres and no wider than 2 metres and it was to be all in white. It was to show in a frozen moment, the processing of people. Prisoners disembarking from the wagons, queuing for selection and being separated, some to join a workforce and many, unknowingly, are walking a kilometre or so towards the gas chambers. This may sound a straightforward enough brief, but it was not. As an artist and designer, having often to come up with new concepts, I was now faced with a project that required me to look much further than my own creative resources. I was to examine some of the darkest hours of 20th century history and make them come alive again in order to tell a story. A different kind of art for me. I was humbled and challenged.

The first thing to do was practical. Put aside the horror and concentrate on the facts, of which the basics are well enough known. Trains arrived at Auschwitz in occupied Poland from as far away as Salonika in Greece. In them people, young and old, male and female were packed together in all weathers for as long as 10 days with little or no space, water, food or hygiene. They were mostly Jews, but there were also Poles, Soviet captives, Gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents and every other variety of deviant from Nazi norms. Auschwitz was only one of many killing camps. Its distinction was to be conveniently situated at the heart of Hitler’s Europe and so the murder factory most easily fed with its raw material, human beings. Someone who arrived there faced only two prospects: an immediate death from Zyclon B pellets dropped into a gas chamber or a slower death from hard labour in atrocious conditions of overwork, starvation, beatings and torture. More than a million died at Auschwitz alone. Only a few escaped or survived, and I met some of them.

I started researching the project, beginning with the architecture and landscape of the camp so as to ensure complete accuracy. This was not easy. The Nazis had tried to destroy the evidence of their crimes. As the Soviet armies approached Auschwitz in 1945, barracks were torched; gas chambers and crematoria blown up and prisoners – those with enough energy to walk – were marched away. As well as evidence from aerial reconnaissance by allied planes, some plans and photographs survived in Nazi archives and these were made available to us from the museum. Most of the photographic evidence was unrevealing. Few showed Nazi troops and almost none any hint of brutality. A single blurry, almost indecipherable, shot taken by brave and ingenious prisoners showed a group of women stripped off and heading at a run towards the gas chambers. Two other pictures showed naked and burning bodies being handled by a wretched Sonderkommando of Jewish prisoners, who earned an extension of their own lives by burning the dead for their SS masters.

There was one vivid exception to this predominantly blank record: an album of photographs taken at Auschwitz by what is understood to be a couple of SS photographers on 22 May 1944. It shows the arrival and dispersal of a trainload of Jews from Berehovo in Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia. The circumstances of the album’s recovery are as mysterious as its making. Among those on the train that day was the 18-year-old Lili Jacob, the only one of her numerous families to survive. She finished the war in a subsidiary camp called Mittelbau-Dora, 500 miles away near Nordhausen in Germany.

By the time she was liberated by the Americans, Lili had contracted typhus. She sought refuge in the newly emptied SS barracks. Poking around for something warm to wear, she found a pyjama top in a cupboard. Wrapped inside was the album. She opened the book and to her amazement she came across photographs of herself and her community taken on the day they arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. She kept the book as the only memento of her family and after 11 years gave it to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. As part of my brief, I had to now make sense of it and recreate it. For the model was to show the events of the day recorded in the album.

I then decided to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau itself. I needed to make connections to the album, measure everything I could and study the terrain so that the model would be as physically accurate as possible. With help from Teresa Swiebocka, curator of the Auschwitz State Museum, I examined the two sites: the main camp of Auschwitz in a former Polish army barracks and Auschwitz-Birkenau, purpose built for the victims of the Third Reich. The odd thing about being in Auschwitz-Birkenau was that, while I expected to be overwhelmed with horror, I was simply numbed. There is little resonance of evil in what has been left behind. The place was not designed to express its purpose – like a church or a bank – but on the contrary, to conceal it. The scatter of shoddy buildings that survive does not make a setting for extreme evil. If you passed the place you probably wouldn’t notice it. Even the gatehouse, one of the icons of 20th century terror, is a rather small utilitarian brick building, hardly concealing the vast bleak fields with their clinical rows of freestanding chimneystacks and surrounding barbed wire.

I immersed myself in the Holocaust: speaking with survivors, listening to tape recordings and studying many books and testimonials. Most of them made very grim reading. But what really struck me were the histories and lives of people and their communities before they reached Auschwitz. To be removed from these lives was the start of a process repeated throughout Nazi Europe. People were singled out, snatched from their homes, robbed of their possessions, herded into ghettos and then forced into trains. The Nazis tried to strip them of their identity. They were rich and poor, young and old, men and women, sophisticated Berlin intellectuals and peasants from the countryside, criminals and those who had given pre-Hitler Germany proud service. Whoever they had been no longer mattered to the Nazis. But they now mattered to me. Each time I placed a tiny figure on the ramp or along the road towards the gas chamber, I felt as if I knew whom they were and what mattered about them was not where they were going but what they left behind. This project for me was more about life than about death.

Some of the prisoners had already died days before the train pulled in at Auschwitz-Birkenau with Lili and the Jews of her ghetto. The model represents only one part of the process. It shows as faithfully as possible the arrival of that train through the gatehouse and all the obscene rituals that followed: disembarkation, selection by sex, health and age and dispatch to slow or sudden death. Even the dumping of luggage for removal to the ‘Canada’ barracks – ‘the land of plenty’ – an ironic title given to the sheds in which prisoners’ luggage was stored so that they could be looted later. Halfway along the model, a column of women judged fit to work is being marched away from the arriving train. At the far end, another column is being marched to Crematorium 2 on their left, while to their right a column of old and unfit men and boys are being herded down the steps of Crematorium 3, expecting a shower but in reality to be gassed. When I placed the last figure on the ramp, I stood back and was astonished to discover how clinical and graphic everything looked. Rows and rows of barbed wire, ditches, barracks and thousands of people adding yet another texture to the overall bleakness. Here are people queuing, just as if for a bus or a football match.

But sheer numbers also have a vitality of their own and the process does not end. The scene frozen in the model was followed by many others and for the people in them, mostly of an unimaginable horror. Not all of them died. Some survived but none of us, I hope, will ever have to endure their terror. Like them, though we cannot know what lies ahead. Greater forces gather momentum and overwhelm us.

But the process of life continues, with all its accidents and chances. That process has included for me, the chance to study and express something of the horror of one particularly dark phase of the human story. It has been, against the odds perhaps, an enriching, even improving experience. In a profound way, it has stretched me greatly as an artist and touched me deeply as a human being.