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Split Figure

Exhibition Piece: A small bronze sculpture created by Michael Ayrton of a male nude vertically bisected by a wall. He is striding out purposefully with one foot forward, both hands and arms outstretched. Although titled, ‘Man Passing Through Wall’, it is actually believed to be ‘Split Figure’ of 1968.

By Judith Brown, Librarian; IVC

In the library, there is a small bronze sculpture by the English artist Michael Ayrton, (1921-1975) which was purchased in memory of College Warden, Dr Sylvia West, who died aged 51 in February 1997.  Michael Ayrton was described by Henry Moore as a "fascinating side-alley; not mainstream, but a significant eccentric".

Having researched Ayrton's work, I believe that this is ‘Split Figure’ from 1969, although our label entitles it ‘Man Passing Through A Wall’.  This powerful, striding male nude is bisected vertically by a wall, and stands with arms and hands outstretched, almost in a gesture of spiritual devotion.  Ayrton was captivated with the maze as an image, in history and for our time, and this sculpture certainly contains an ambiguity of entrapment and escape.  Ayrton sums up this complexity:

"The maze is ambiguous: an ancient concept meaning many things at once.  It is a fortress, a hiding-place, a way through life into death.  It is a sanctuary filled with terror, an irony conceived as a refuge."

There is a maze on the headstone of his grave at St. Botolph's Church, Hadstock, Essex.  A larger example of his work, ‘Talos’, can be seen on Guildhall Street in Cambridge.  This was anonymously donated to the City of Cambridge.