In the Downbelow

The four sculptures on display here, like the four gates to the old walled city, were created in response to the stories, tombs and atmosphere of the crypt combined with the history of Bristol.

Plague Doctor

This crypt and the original church above were built during the 14th Century, during a time of great prosperity in the city. It could be said that the ravages of the Black Death had left in their wake a society ready to rebuild and redefine itself. This figure, part human, part crow, part performer, makes literal reference to the plague doctor’s famous costume. I am fascinated by the ambiguity of these ‘doctors’ who supposedly came to heal but were of little or no help to those they were sent to tend and most suffered the same fate. Here in this world between the living and the dead he takes his final bow.

Green Man

In the carved roof boss above this sculpture is a green man head with leaves growing from his eyes and mouth. These images often take the form of a man covered with leaves but when I found an image in my research on a tomb in Devon of a skull with flowers growing from its eyes I was struck by the idea of a full skeleton with greenery growing through it. The image of death spews forth an image of growth which in turn begins to reclaim its host. In this way he points towards the changing seasons as well as the processes of death and rebirth we all pass through during our lifetimes.

Lady of Letters

The carved figures of the couple on the alabaster tomb in the crypt show a stately husband and wife lying side by side. One of the key signs alluding to this is the items for writing the lady carrys on her belt. In medievil times it was only very wealthy women who would learn to write. So for me this figure transformed into the Lady of Letters with reams of letters falling from her hand and cascading down her dress, telling the tragic fate of her betrothed off at sea. The written word has become so much part of her existence that it is ink rather than tears that roll down her cheeks and stain her dress, mixing with the words of her lover who has been taken from her. It is striking today to remember when hand written letters were often the only possible means of communication.

Lord of Misrule

During November celebrations in medieval times the populace would appoint a Lord of Misrule to preside over the festivities. This figure was given freedom to say and do things that would normally be unthinkable. Their purpose seems to be to stand as a symbol of anarchy for the common man and they would often wear a paper crown and cause uproar in the streets. I wanted to combine the natural misrule of childhood with the mixed cultural heritage of the city and the slave trade that played such a part in shaping it. Here he stands in his father’s shoes and home-made crown fulfilling a role but standing for something more than that.

 

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