Michael Ayrton was a true Renaissance man; a painter, draughtsman, sculptor and writer engaged with both the past and present.
He was fascinated with Greek mythology and especially the story of Daedalus, and from this myth one of the figures that Ayrton focussed upon in the early 1960s was Talos. In folklore the sentinel Taloswas the armed guardian of Crete, a giant figure perpetually walking along the shoreline in constant vigilance. Ayrton saw him as a comforting character, writing:
“A certain tranquillity lies in his stupid presence, a certain comfort. He has no brains and no arms, but looks very powerful”(Ayrton, 1962) One critic, Robert Wright, in his review of an exhibition of Ayrton’s work in a London gallery, offered his opinion that “the headless, puffed-up or hollow bronze Sentinels [of which this Talos was the largest example] are the military powers” whilst his “Minotaurs were the helpless mass of the world’s people who believe the modern Talos can defend them.” (Nyenhuis, 2003)
Of seven sentinel bronzes, six were cast in 1962, and the other in 1963. Only the first and last sentinel bronzes are more than two feet tall, but the last Talos [this example] is a life-size example (68 inches tall), deliberately armless and faceless, but supported by muscular features strongly resembling a visored and helmeted medieval knight.
To Ayrton, Talos had a particular relevance to the contemporary society he lived in -a figure of his time as well as of antiquity –that was a focus for the adoration of the many, whilst being hollow and incapable of any lasting imagination or inspiration. It belongs to a body of work created after the Second World War by British sculptors that conveyed both a message of angst and bewilderment with society.
This present example can be considered one of the most important examples from this series of works, cast in an edition of three, the other known example on public display on Guildhall Street in Cambridge.