In the mid-1950s William Turnbull bought a number of rare rosewood logs, which he kept in his studio, stood upright like sentries. Between 1955 and 1962 he produced a seminal sequence of stacking sculptures in various combinations of stone, bronze and rosewood, in which the original form of the logs were often barely modified. These works echoed the scale and presence of the human body in space whilst drawing on abstracted, simplified forms. Placed directly on the ground, the notion of a ‘base’ was eliminated, each sculpture existing within the sphere of human activity, their scale relative to, and reliant upon, the position of the spectator.
In the catalogue for Turnbull's 1973 Tate Gallery retrospective, curator Richard Morphet described this series as having reached a “high point of silent expressive intensity" noting how these works "focus and embody the idea of human activity (both of sculptor, and of past, present and future spectator/participants)", resembling “portals or altars and, more strongly than ever totems.” . The otherworldly names Turnbull gave to these objects - Agamemnon, Lama, Janus, Oedipus - underlined his sense of them as ‘person-objects’, explaining in 1963 that these forms ‘stand substitute for’ and are not ‘abstractions from’ the human figure. 
The bronze top section of Lama was clearly made at an earlier stage as it is marked with the artist's stamp and dated 1957. Turnbull made a number of heads around this period and this is likely to be one of these turned through 90 degrees.
This work was acquired by the gallery directly from the collector Betty Freeman. Offer Waterman first became aware that she owned the sculpture having spotted it in David Hockney's famous portrait of Freeman, 'Beverley Hills Housewife', 1966-7. Betty Freeman collected Abstract expressionist painters such as Clyfford Still, Sam Francis and Mark Rothko and Minimalist sculptor Dan Flavin and Lama was a rare British work in her collection, which she had bought from Felix Landau around the time Hockney began her portrait. Freeman was also an important supporter of experimental composers such as Steve Reich and John Cage. Just as we see in Hockney's painting, Lama was indeed kept outside, near the swimming pool, for many years but it remained in remarkably good condition thanks to California's sunny climate.
 Richard Morphet, ‘Introduction,’ William Turnbull, Sculpture and Painting, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 1973, p42  The artist, ‘Images without Temples,’ Living Arts, ed. Theo Crosby and John Bodley, 1963, p15)
The Artist Felix Landau Gallery, USA Private Collection, USA
Offer Waterman, London
Private Collection, UK
Balboa, California, Pavilion Gallery, William Turnbull: Sculpture and Paintings, 13 March - 24 April 1966, cat no.9 illus b/w Los Angeles, UCLA Art Galleries, Twentieth Century Sculpture from Southern California Collections, 27 February - 14 April 1972, illus
Herbert Read, Modern Sculpture: A Concise History, Thames & Hudson, London, 2001, cat no. 204, illus colour p 193, first published in 1964 as A Concise History of Modern Sculpture Amanda A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull, The Henry Moore Foundation, Much Hadham, in association with Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2005, cat no.108, illus b/w p114
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