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Image of Fish on a Bicycle by Steven Gregory
Steven Gregory, Fish on a Bicycle. Photo © Jesus College Cambridge

Steven Gregory

Work exhibited: Fish on a Bicycle.

Steven Gregory’s work maintains the figurative tradition in British sculpture with the vitality and acerbic wit of a satirist whose awareness and understanding of the idioms of postmodernity is both hawk eyed and indulgent.

Fish on a Bicycle (1998) is something of a signature piece, which shows Gregory alert to the self definitions of contemporary culture. He has responded to the feminist dictum ‘A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle’ with equal amounts of enthusiasm and scepticism, with a brio and contrariness that is truly Aristophanic.

His juxtaposing of incongruous elements is no mere assemblage of oddities against a receptive surface or background, but an ensemble of energies whose relationship to its context is subversively enlivening. Gregory’s fish is no ordinary fish, but one which leaps and curvets, while his bike is not any old bike but a true velocipede.

The bounding energy of this piece is typical of the oeuvre. There is something of the same spirit in The Paparazzi (1996) and The Bag Men (1993). The former captures the tension of life in the crowd, the urgency with which the pursuit of novelty takes on a life of its own – almost literally: the human agents have been absorbed into their apparatus.

The Bag Men is effectively a companion piece, distracting the gaze away from the ferocious inquisitiveness of the media and directing it towards commonplace objects of neglect, receptacles which have an everyday utility but which are expendable, ignorable. Gregory gives them an agency and releases them into action, turning the space that they share and traverse into an anarchic playground.

Pride of place, however, goes to the magnificent new Samurai Warrior (2003), a 10ft high sentinel which accosts the viewer with an unmistakeably challenging gesture. The real challenge to the western viewer is in the materialising of a fiat and stylised representation of a figure drawn from the estranging conventions of Japanese woodblock prints. The sculpture hovers between two and three dimensions, just as the western viewer’s relationship with Japanese art can only ever be one of partial assimilation, partial resolution.

When faced with these alien configurations, we tend to give them a content and a meaning which are illusory. It is as if to underline this point that Gregory has taken care to explain that his warrior is not everything it seems; it is not a representation of a warrior at all, in fact, but of an actor. The sculpture is based on a portrayal by Torii Kiyomasu II of the actor Ichikawa Ebizo II as Kagekiyo: "Ebizo was a great Kabuki actor in the 18th century. Kagekiyo was a retainer of the Taira who vowed revenge on the Minamoto clan after the destruction of the Taira at the Battle of Dannoura in 1185." 

Gregory’s title intercedes with the western audience, adding a stratum of meaning in order to render the figure slightly more familiar while obscuring its point of origin in the generic complexities of Japanese culture. Gregory’s habitual relationship with his audience involves the creation of moments of awareness in the turn of interpretation.

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