El Toro Grande
The Netherlands is famous for its agricultural achievements. Images symbolizing these many-sided activities are well known worldwide. Cattle-breeding is one of them and the classical Frisian black-and-white has become a brand signifying high productivity, quality and reliability. Notwithstanding the international reputation, Dutch cattle has been step-motherly treated when it comes to the national art experience. Admittedly, the illustrious 'Stier van Potter' (Paulus Potter's painting of a bull) is widely known but looking closely, it is not a very impressive example of the species. Granted it is a fairly big painting, the young bull has yet to develop and nothing betrays the temperament of the potential king of the herd. But for a few delicate models in Dutch delftware the presence of cattle as a subject for sculpture is even more rare. True enough the Rijksmuseum owns two beautiful 17th century bronze statuettes of bulls but they are little known, and even less loved. No, when it comes to sculptured cattle, the only real claim to fame is bestowed upon 'Us Mem', a life-size monument of and for the Frisian cow. It was made for the city of Leeuwarden, capital of the Province of Friesland, in 1954 by the sculptor G.J. Adema. 'Us Mem' ('our mother' in the Frisian language) is a nickname, an endearment lovingly added by the citizens of the city and at the same time a confirmation of all of the breed's qualities previously mentioned. Perhaps that is the reason why she is destined to be such an uneventful sculpture. She is the 'polder-model' avant la lettre, passion and emotion are not her cup of tea.
The absence of the bull, the fiery animal, from our imagery tells something about our national character and mentality. Perhaps the animal's mighty horns, imposing chest and massive neck did not impress the level-headed Northerner as much as the warm-blooded inhabitant of a more Southern region. On the other hand we may have been taken more –economically- by the cow's well-shaped udder, than the bull's awesome sexual organ and scrotum. However, the bull with his inseparable machismo, has been an age-long part of the world's cultural history, in fact most of the art history handbooks start with the image of a pre-historical bull, painted on the wall of the cave in Lascaux. The bull has remained a source of inspiration ever since although horse and lion have been depicted more often. After the Lascaux bull there is the Minoan bull, Shiva's bull Nandi and the Farnese bull, to name just a few. To the sculptors of the 16th and 17th century, the bull proved to be a wonderful subject, not only for various sketches and studies after nature but also as a carrier of mythological content, for example in the story of Hercules and the Cretan bull. The 19th century shows a revival of interest in animal sculpture. Among the French 'Animaliers' artists, the sculptors Barye, Mène and Bonheur excel in the rendering of this formidable animal into works of art. The bull created in 1956 by the Spanish artist Manolo Prieto is without any doubt the most numerous and wide-spread model, not only as logo but also as 'cut-out' sculpture in a landscape setting; 90 times this giant black bull left the studio of the Prieto brothers to promote the 'Osborne' brand all over the Spanish hillside.
Jos Dirix deliberately claims his place in the long-standing international tradition of figurative sculpture. His subject-matter is diverse. In his studio classical themes like the animal, the female torso and the odd male figure are translated into contemporary equivalents. Dirix prefers to work in bronze, the medium that still fascinates him after 30 years of experience and expertise. His professional skills are beyond dispute. Starting as a mere apprentice in Pie Sijen's foundry, he now belongs to the select group of experts with bronze running through their veins. This choice of material, just like the chosen subject-matter, is related to the sculptural tradition but again, a mere continuation of the tradition is not his aim. Striving for a modern visual language he explores the dominance of expression and emotion in sculpture. The essence of the subject is conveyed to such a degree, the spectator is often not aware of the fact that the sculptor has not strictly followed the rules of an anatomical and naturalistic likeness. Thus we are not solely presented with a bronze figure of a 'horse', an "eagle owl', a 'torso' or a 'bull' but also with a signature work by the artist.
… and behold 'El Toro Grande', Jos Dirix's capo lavoro, conceived in 2013. A proper bull, a bull that matches our imagination. All the previously mentioned examples have created a kind of after-image on our retina, in our imagination and in our heart. Before us stands the quintessential bull. A multitude of qualifications spring to one's mind: power, courage, unyielding, attack and defence, compressed musculature, overt animal sexuality, gleam and beauty and miraculously so, tenderness. It is a kind of tenderness tempting us to reach out and touch. 'El Toro Grande' gives the spectator pre-eminently the sensation of the physical presence of the animal. Earlier and smaller bronzes of bulls by Dirix, are as thrilling but the beautiful tension between attraction and respect is felt most strongly in the perception of the life-size bronze. The urge to touch, to feel the hide, is countered by the impulse to step back from the encounter as we stand in awe of so much strength. The bulk of the statue concurs apparently with the animal and the weight, 700 kilo roughly, becomes tangible just by looking at it. 'El Toro Grande' becomes more than a statue of a bull. It is first and foremost 'Dirix's Bull'.