• Sam Smith

John Henry

There is a song on a Van Morrison album 'The Philosopher's Stone' called John Henry. It is so energetic and pumping, I love it. He screams John Henry again and again in the song and it's so powerful.



'The Wrestler' by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

There is a sculpture called 'The Wrestler' by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska in the Bristol Museum and Gallery (I visited in May 2022) and it absolutely captivated me. I drew it for 20 minutes, then I went to get a cup of coffee and ate a banana and came back and drew it some more (this time from different angles).


I like a lot of paintings and sculpture but there was something about this figure which connected with me at a deeper level. I just wanted to be next to it as long as I could. It had something I could only describe as a magnetic pull on me. The only other work that emits this same kind of buzz are a small number of Picasso's works. It's like they are alive to me.


The 'low brow' subject matter of a wrestler reiterated a lesson I have been exposed to many many times but still haven't fully assimilated. You can paint whatever you like the more you like it, the better. Furthermore, if it's something that feels out of the sphere of reach of what is considered 'art' then that has the potential to be even more interesting, new and powerful.


I went to the Mardyke pub ("cheapest pub in Bristol" - £2.40 a pint!) and sat down and drew Tyson Fury (a boxer- not a million miles away rom Wrestling) from memory. I spent the best part of the afternoon painting and drawing and drinking. I felt like I was 18 again with all of the excitement of creativity and none of the hang-ups.


It made me realise that I find muscular bodies very inspiring.

Cut to two months later, listening to that song I mentioned, I looked up John Henry and found a statue of him which reminded me of the Wrestler.


I thought it would be nice to see John Henry in action so to warm myself up one Monday morning (11th July in case you're interested) I drew studies of him swinging his hammer.


He is swinging his hammer way up in the air, ready to bring it down - an image of extreme physical confidence. I remember being in really good shape at various points in my life and loving the reverence that it elicits. Like the magnetism that certain works of art can emit.


My friend felt like the underlying message of the painting is hard work. Perhaps that is true. I have been producing work at quite a rate over the last few months. I'm happy with that!


Painting by Luca Giordano

There also feels like a biblical narrative here. Reminiscent of the paintings I have drawn so many times in the National Gallery, which tell the story of a specific character and use a circular light source and dramatic poses.




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