“I did ask Adrian about the subject matter and he did tell me that it was an ‘elephant having a crap’. Adrian’s view of the law, I guess. It all seemed very romantic at the time and I do remember chuckling at the piece when it was in front of the Law Courts. I was not surprised to see it go.”
Sam Campion, colleague and friend of the artist.
I’ll take a jarring, controversial piece of public art over some dull street furniture (or even worse, a tasteful bust) any day of the week. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been drawn to Adrian Kidd’s derided Equinox sculpture, which stood in Middlesbrough Town Centre for a few years in the 1970s before public opinion forced its removal.
In the mid-1970s, a new courthouse was being built in Middlesbrough. The design of the building was squat, modern and brutalist, and the local council held a competition to find an artwork to stand in front of it.
Adrian Kidd – a technician in the art department of Kirby College in the mid-1970s – entered and won with an abstract, cherry red sculpture called Equinox (receiving £100 prize money into the bargain). The piece was championed by Tony Noble – then Head of Middlesbrough Architects and Planners – but torn to shreds in a local council meeting when a mock-up was revealed, as reported (with flagrant disregard for apostrophe use) by the Evening Gazette.
“There’s not much intelligence there if the sculpture is rejected.”
Despite being labelled “a monstrosity” and “an abomination” by local councillors, the work pressed ahead. Kidd was livid at the council members’ public condemnation of his work, taking to the newspapers himself to defend it and deriding them as “bloody foolish”.
The creation of Equinox was dangerous. With the help of technician Roger Anderson, Kidd created a mould from clay over timber and wire, then worked inside this to lay on a gel coat, followed by layers of glass and resin. According to friend and colleague Sam Campion, Adrian “passed out several times due to the fumes, and had to be dragged out and brought back to consciousness”, while Sue Campion (a former Senior Lecturer at Teesside University) remembers Kidd sitting in the Linthorpe Hotel bar and leaving “a full coating of fibreglass on the benches. When he left his hair was always full of dust”.
Eventually the work was completed and installed outside the law courts. It was immediately controversial and soon attracted the nickname “The Elephant’s Arse” from the local populace. This was perhaps not a coincidence, as Sam Campion explained to me in an email exchange in 2020 – “I did ask Adrian about the subject matter and he did tell me that it was an ‘elephant having a crap’. Adrian’s view of the law, I guess. It all seemed very romantic at the time and I do remember chuckling at the piece when it was in front of the Law Courts.”
Though Equinox had its defenders, its days were numbered. A petition was started to remove the piece and – under public pressure – the council took it away sometime around 1977.
Equinox was relocated to Adrian Kidd’s parents’ house in Low Worsall, near Yarm, where it remained for over 30 years. It was later bought by the artist’s brother William, and moved to his home at Seaton Hall in 2002.
I interviewed William Kidd in 2020. He hasn’t seen Adrian for a long time and thought it doubtful I’d get to interview him directly. He showed me some photographs of the now “mellowed and patinated” sculpture on the Seaton Hall grounds, it’s “iron hue” hinting at Middlesbrough’s industrial past.
As of 2020, William was planning a sculpture garden at the Hall. In pride of place – at the centre of a ‘Zodiac Arboretum’ – Equinox will stand.
Written by Daniel Cochran, 2022.
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