Described as the largest motoring garden party in the world, the Goodwood Festival of Speed feels like a scene from a Steve McQueen film, full of good old fashioned style, glamour and the heady smell of petrol mixed with the exhilaration of fast cars going fast as well as fast cars standing still, taking their moment in the limelight and being admired.
The 2013 theme will be celebrating the previous 20 years of this hugely respected car and culture event. Such landmarks always encourage popular returns and one of these will be the fantastically named drag racing star, Bob Riggle, who first wowed the crowds with his hillclimb wheelies in a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda in 2001. He returned again in 2003 and 2007 and will be back again for 2013.
One person who needs special mention in such a celebratory year is artist Gerry Judah. You might remember him for the extraordinary display he created to commemorate Jaguar’s 50th anniversary at the show in 2011 or last year’s Lotus display. At 28 metres high, photographs of the Jaguar sculpture really can’t capture the immense spectacle and grandeur that this imposing piece generates. Made with steel donated by Tata Steel, the structure is almost a giant corrugated E-type upended.
Judah has been a regular fixture, or rather has created regular fixtures commissioned by Lord March, at the FOS for some time. Since 1997 in fact, when he was first commissioned to create a spectacular piece for the festival in celebration of Ferrari.
For me, one of his most striking pieces came in 2008 with the creation of an interwoven mesh of steel, almost like a giant web, with various Land Rover models captured by an unseen spider and stuck to the steel web at gravity defying angles.
Just take a look at some of the numbers that went into creating this piece to get an idea of the immense scale: 2,560 drawings, 4,890 bolts, weighing 120 tonnes and reaching a height of 34 metres (111ft).
As striking as this is, this is not the most beautiful thing Judah has created at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, that accolade surely has to go to the Mercedes Benz sculpture that he created in 2001. Serenely lit with electric-blue light, the smooth lines swirl the eye up to an impossibly positioned Mercedes right at the peak of this mountain of steel as if ready to be dropped like a Hot Wheels car down the smooth curving front.
In fact, the scalextric / Hot Wheels theme is something that seems to have echoed through many of the creations Judah has built to stand outside Goodwood House on the vast 12,000 acre estate. Real cars are regularly used and made to look impossibly small against a backdrop of huge-scale steel road-like structures that sweep through the air.
It’s when you begin to learn a little about Gerry Judah that you start to understand his take on modern sculpture. Born in Calcutta in 1951, Judah settled in London at the age of ten. The impressionable young Judah had grown up with the impressive architecture of Indian temples with their own sweeping lines, and it’s this smoothness of line that can very much be seen echoed in the Mercedes Benz sculpture.
Having studied at Slade School of Fine Art and Goldsmiths, Judah went on to set up his own studio in Shaftsbury Avenue in London where he developed his desire to create big.
There is something very alive and primal about giant sculptures, it tends to create the same sort of feeling one gets from standing on the edge of a giant cliff looking out to sea, where we cannot fail to become acutely aware of how small we are in the great scheme of things with a rock face towering above a beach and an expanse of water that stretches beyond the visible horizon. The same sort of feeling can be obtained by visiting standing stones such as Stonehenge, which of course is an ancient sculpture in itself.
But whereas Stonehenge remains very still, Gerry Judah’s Goodwood displays look full of energy and movement. The Ford Central Display from 2003, oozes energy with the feel of a photographer tracking the speeding cars, while the road beneath them blurs into one giant mass of movement.
Equally, last year’s 60-tonne Lotus display really does remind me of my Hot Wheels set that I treasured as a child, never quite understanding how the cars could loop-the-loop without falling off and then wondering why we didn’t have real roads like this. The sweeping brilliant white curves each exhibit a Lotus F1 racing car celebrating the company’s 50 proud years of racing history.
Come to think of it, maybe this is the most spectacular of Judah’s Goodwood creations. It’s done with such effectiveness that it is incredibly hard to not see the cars weaving in and out of each other, while every photo looks like it has just captured a moment in time that would otherwise be full of noise and blurring movement.
The Goodwood Festival of Speed (FOS) runs from 12-14 July this year.
Images from judah.co.uk