Photo gallery: The Queen’s Beasts are now on display at the Assembly House in Norwich
08:12 02 August 2012
They are the heraldic symbols of the Queen’s royal bloodline that stood gallantly outside Westminster Abbey for her coronation on June 2, 1953.
But when artist Tom Hiscocks met the Queen’s Beasts, which now stand guard in Kew Gardens, he saw 10 glorious animals desperate to break free of their stone cladding and fly, canter and charge into 2012.
Now, after 2,000 hours creating a set of modern sculptures fit for the Diamond Jubilee out of old drinks cans, scrapped cars and even a fire extinguisher, he has brought his beasts to Norwich as part of a tour of the country.
The Queen’s Beasts, which go on display at the Assembly House from today until August 27, are a contemporary version of the original plaster installations commissioned specially for Queen Elizabeth II’s crowning in 1953.
They were later remade in stone and placed in Kew Gardens where, more than a year ago, they were visited by Mr Hiscocks.
He said: “They looked rather solemn and rather forced to me. They said to me: ‘we were made for a formal occasion 60 years ago and we’re stuck in this position’.
“The Queen’s Beasts were stuck in particular poses but, just as humans have different dimensions to their person, my sense was they had lots of other aspects to their characters.”
The artist set about recreating the sculptures using reclaimed materials and recycled rubbish.
As he wandered around scrapyards and arranged to collect old beer cans from social clubs, the animals began to take shape.
A discarded fire extinguisher became the centre piece of the Dragon of Wales’s head.
“Traditionally dragons blow fire,” said Mr Hiscocks.
“This fella is really concerned about fire.
“He said: ‘this could be really dangerous’, so he would rather have a fire extinguisher.”
The Unicorn of Scotland has been able to break free of his previously constrained pose to rear up on his hind legs, while the White Horse of Hanover has been allowed to indulge a love of dressage.
Each piece – from the Lion of England’s body made from shredded Guinness cans to the old drum symbols used to make the Yale of Beaufort’s spots – have been sculpted by hand by Mr Hiscocks.
He described the process as a dialogue with the beasts.
“I have been speaking to these guys for the last year or so.
“There’s a lot of time standing back, looking and having a conversation about how they want to be and which bits work and don’t work. To me they are very alive,” he said.
They have since met the Queen, during a visit to Valentines Mansion in Ilford, who seemed to enjoy the display.
The use of reclaimed materials aims to not only add to the sense of bringing the beasts into the 21st century, but also to raise awareness of recycling.
The sculptures uses about 2,500 drinks cans which would have otherwise been thrown away.
A new children’s book telling the story of the Queen’s Beasts 2012 has been created to go alongside the exhibition. It tells the tale of Lizzie, the daughter of Kew Garden’s park keeper, who frees the beasts after 60 years. The book will be on sale at the Assembly House throughout the exhibition.