The Lineout by Gerald Laing

Gerald Laing’s speech at the unveiling of The Line-out sculpture at Twickenham.

Before I ask you to come forward to look more closely at the sculpture, I must express publicly my gratitude to all those without whose hard work and devotion it would have been impossible to create.

First I must thank my two eldest sons, Farquhar and Sam, who as well as working hard and long on the physical construction of this great bronze, have also unstintingly provided me with moral support throughout all the ups and downs which are inevitable in the creative process. Farquhar leads the matchless team from his Black Isle Bronze foundry where the work was cast, and their expertise and devotion to their work ensured that my concept was accurately translated into metal. I also appreciate the contribution of the technicians who made the digital enlargement of the sculpture from three quarters lifesize to its present scale of twice life size, which saved us endless time and work.

I should also like to thank Joe Worsley, whose assistance was invaluable in the solution of positional and technical matters at a crucial point in the composition of the group.

And of course, I thank the Rugby Football Union, who had the courage and conviction to commission the sculpture.

The Athlete in the Stadium is one of the greatest themes in the history of sculpture. So it was with great pleasure and indeed a certain sense of fulfillment that I accepted the commissions for sculpture from such an eminent authority on sport as the RFU, first in 1993 and then again in 2009. I consider it a great honour to be so employed by such a distinguished patron.

Ever since I completed the first four figures for the Lion Gate, I have wanted to be given the opportunity of making a sculpture of a Lineout. The Lineout is a particularly dramatic moment in what is the most dramatic of games. The combination of the powerful upward thrust, the tension, and the focussed chaos combined are a gift for a sculptor.

Last summer I spent five months working exclusively on the three quarters scale clay maquette. I leased for this purpose a wonderful and historic studio in Tite Street in Chelsea, one which had been used by, among others, John Singer Sargent,  Whistler, and Augustus John. I do not think that I am being over dramatic when I claim that the shades of these great fellow artists seemed sometimes to be evident, and certainly my awareness of their example in their work improved my game.

When you work for an extended period of time on a large and complex task there is plenty of time for meditation and for the discovery of greater depths of meaning in the work.

Rugby is a game full of extraordinary dramatic moments, set piece compositions lasting only for a split second, which then dissolve and rapidly re-form in infinite variety. Common to them all is the single focus on the ball. In the Lineout that necessary obsession becomes particularly evident, as the ball arches over the players who strain to reach it.

In my mind the ball became, as it were, the Holy Grail. In the Lineout sculpture in front of you, the uppermost figure, the Catcher, might therefore be seen as Parsifal. He was the only knight of the Round Table pure enough to be vouchsafed the Grail. In the situation before you, we shall never know whether or not he actually attains it, balanced as it is on the tips of his finger.

The five core values of Rugby reside in all of my figures, in differing proportions. They are after all the basic necessities of good play, and without them you are diminished.

The Catcher cannot not fulfill his ambition unaided. He needs the selfless assistance of his two lifters. One is a battered and ancient man at arms, showing wounds sustained in many a friendly battle; perfectly reliable, always present where he is most needed, perfectly loyal, and content to act in the supporting role. All of this makes up for his apparent lack of grace. The other lifter is younger, neater, faster, very competent, and much more nimble.

The failed Catcher, swinging up the side of the main figure group,has lost control of his moves and shows a bit of panic. His powerful but flailing attempt to achieve the ball has been unsuccessful, even though it was his team which had the throw in.  One of his lifters has been left behind; the other has swung away to the side, looking in his relationship to the whole group much as Alexander the Great looked as he tried to control his wild steed Bucephalus.

In the next instant, if there was to be one, this scene, now frozen in time, would disintegrate, and a new panorama of passionate strife would take its place. What comes next is a subject upon which you yourselves may care to speculate.

I should now like to invite you to come forward to walk around and through and under the sculpture, and look at it more closely. You may touch it if you wish.

The sculpture has left the studio and the foundry where it was conceived and born.

Now it must survive in the world.

I hope that you will join with me in wishing it a long and useful life in its permanent home at the heart of Rugby Football.