“The Searcher”, Bronze ~ Ross Wilson
“The Searcher” stands in front of Holywood Arches Library, Holywood Road, Belfast.
It is a life-size bronze sculpture depicting Digory Kirke, C S Lewis’ fictional alter ego, entering the kingdom of Narnia through a large wardrobe while resting a hand on a rather inviting chair…..
In the Narnia story, ‘The Magician’s Nephew,’ a wardrobe made from a beautiful apple tree which has special properties. It is through this magical wardrobe that the Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, enter Narnia and meet the talking animals and mythological creatures that populate that snowbound world.
C.S. ‘Jack’ Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and spent the first decade and a half or so of his life in the streets opposite this spot. The Sculpture by Ross Wilson, was unveiled on the 6th November 1998, the centenary of his birth.
On the back of the wardrobe, on either side of a small lion’s head (Aslan) near the top, are not just one, but two explanations, a literal one and a metaphorical one. The former is headlined “The Searcher” and reads:
“The Searcher is based on a literary character called Digory Kirke created by C.S. Lewis. In the Magician’s Nephew it was Digory who made the wardrobe from a beautiful apple tree that had magical properties, which helped open a doorway to Narnia and Aslan.”
The second explanation on the back of this statue details the symbolism chosen by the sculptor:
“C.S. Lewis did not just hang clothes in a wardrobe, he hung ideas – great ideas of sacrifice, redemption, victory, and freedom for the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve – Set within the commonplace, revelation within something that looks ordinary on the outside – revelation through investigation. We should not stop looking, some of the greatest things can be found in the most ordinary of places, like a wardrobe.”
At the bottom, is a quote from C.S. Lewis himself:
“This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.”
Off-center below the lion’s head is reproduced in bronze a letter from Lewis to a little girl who had written to him complaining that she didn’t understand his stories. Lewis’ reply, according to this letter, was basically, “Aslan is Christ, the stone table is the cross, and the White Witch represents little girls who write to me with annoying questions.”
A letter from C S Lewis.
Ross Wilson graduated with a first-class honours degree in Fine Art from the University of Ulster and received his masters from the prestigious Chelsea School of Art, London. He has had many solo exhibitions and has been included in group exhibitions worldwide. He lives and works in Northern Ireland. His aim is to encourage others to begin their journey of sight, to open up, to see into, to search beyond with the soul of the eye.
Since 1980 he has had 26 solo exhibitions and has been included in many important group exhibitions worldwide. He has been a visiting speaker at both Harvard and Oxford Universities. In 1998 he helped set up the innovative `New Art of the Irish` open exhibition as a showcase for a new generation of Irish artists.
His many commissions have included those of several Nobel Laureates, that of St Lucian, Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott for the National Portrait Gallery in London being the most recent; referred to by Wilson as `The Dream Commission`.
One earlier commission was that of Seamus Heaney, a study of who hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
The year 1997 saw Ross Wilson`s first public sculpture commission in bronze being placed at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast. In 1998 his second public bronze, the C S Lewis Centenary Sculpture was placed at the Holywood Arches, Belfast.
He is currently working towards an exhibition of portrait studies based on the American Playwright Arthur Miller in New York and an installation of portraits based on the Spanish poet Fedrico Garcia Lorca in Granada in Spain.
All the while as I studied and photographed the sculpture from all sides, a conversation was taking place. Two gentlemen were sitting watching and throwing questions at me.
A ‘Happy’ waving Dave and friend.
The questions included:
“Are you a Christian?” – Well it was late on a Sunday Morning.
“Do you take a drink?” – The blue off licence carrier bag of ‘cans’ sits between them.
“Would you like me to take a photo of you beside the statue?” – How could I refuse…
Having a rest!