Rock Drill, 1913-1916, cast 1916
American, British, 1880
bronze on stone base
70.5 x 53 x 50.8 cm without base; overall measurement with base 90.5 x 58 x 55 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 6498)
While Jacob Epstein is best known as a sculptor of portraits, "Rock Drill" is probably his most important and innovative work. Inspired by African art, this robot-like figure originally stood ten feet high on a base that consisted of a second-hand pneumatic drill.
The style of "Rock Drill" is influenced by Vorticism, an English movement whose member artists interpreted the rapidly changing character of the modern world and celebrated the vitality of the time through their work by presenting forms with a machine-like angularity. Epstein was ambivalent. He described the creature that he created: "Here is the armed, sinister figure of to-day and to-morrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made ourselves into." Having lost his interest in machinery, Epstein abandoned the drill, and cast the top part of the sculpture, seen here, in bronze.