Beetle, Nicola Hicks, At Bristol, Bristol. Photo: James Harris, courtesy of Bristol City Council.





At-Bristol is an 11-acre educational visitor attraction which opened in July 2000 as part of a £450 million urban rejuvenation scheme. Located in Bristol’s Harbourside the regeneration project was made possible through substantial grant funding from the National Lottery via the Millennium Commission. It includes the one of the largest public art commissions programmes in the South West region with works by eight artists including Nicola Hick’s ‘Beetle’.


One of the most striking At-Bristol commissions is Beetle by Nicola Hicks which draws people into Anchor Square as they cross Pero’s Bridge. Beetle was inspired by the Rhinoceros Beetle – one of the World’s strongest creatures which can support up to 850 times its own weight on its back. However, Hicks’ Beetle is not simply a reproduction of nature – its awesome presence reflects the driving force behind all her work – that of exploring the human consciousness of natural history. 

Nicola Hicks is one of Britain’s most respected sculptors of animals – but she does not produce simple representations. Instead her pieces contain the power of the beast – belonging to a tradition of animal representation that stems right back to prehistoric caves. Her magnificent drawings and sculptures are not cosy or ‘nice’, but have an extraordinary power and presence, which, as in Beetle makes even the smallest creature something to be in awe of – feared even, as it lurks by the trees in Anchor Square. 

Born in London in 1960, Nicola Hicks has pieces in private and public collections in Britain and America. 

In response to a question about why animals are so important to her work she responded: 

“Animals are the stuff of life. When I make a sculpture it’s done because I have something to say about my experience. My only experience is living. Maybe it’s because we are a little less familiar with beasts that I’ve chosen to use them… 

The most precious qualities that humans have are the ones what we share with animals: the qualities we are deeply in touch with subconsciously and maybe totally out of touch with in our conscious state. 

We are all in tune with ourselves and we’re all in tune with every species living on the planet. including plants. We are all in tune with the same things. We’re all in tune with survival. Human beings spend a lot of time denying it and battling with their intellect.” 

The At Bristol Commissions Programme 

The commissioning programme started in 1998/99, at the same time as the designs for the site were being developed. The commissions are all themed around the concepts of reflection and exploration. They include small-scale painted bronze sculptures Jasmine, and Bill and Bob by Cathie Pilkington, a large-scale bronze sculpture, Beetle by Nicola Hicks, and figurative bronzes of William Penn, William Tyndale and Thomas Chatterton by Lawrence Holofcener. Works using light include Zenith by David Ward which covers Millennium Square, and a text based work using neon light by Tim Noble and Sue Webster in the underground car park. William Pye’s large landscape piece using water, Aquarena, animates Millennium Square, while Simon Thomas’ sculpture Small Worlds, celebrating prize-winning physicist Paul Dirac, is in Anchor Place. An interactive digital work, Elematrix, by Tessa Eliot is inside the At-Bristol complex. With the exception of the two large works which are integral to Millennium Square, most of the works were made off-site and installed from 1999 and throughout 2000. 

Three architects were involved in transforming the At-Bristol site with new buildings and landscaped open spaces which would complement the existing architectural heritage. Wildwalk and the Imax cinema were designed by Michael Hopkins and Partners, and Chris Wilkinson Architects (now Wilkinson Eyre) designed the building for Explore. The open spaces and squares were carefully planned by The Concept Planning Group (CPG) to accommodate the artists’ commissions and to provide areas suitable for live entertainment, such as street performers. CPG was also responsible for overseeing the installation of the commissioned artworks and the subsequent period of snagging and problem resolution. 

The works have evoked a strong sense of ownership from local people and an emphatically positive reaction from visiting children and adults. 

Individual Commissions 

Aquarena by William Pye 

Millennium Square’s six unique, epic scale water sculptures which can also be drained to create a distinctive performance space. 

Beetle by Nicola Hicks 

Inspired by the Rhinoceros Beetle, an awesome presence: one of the world’s strongest creatures which can support up to 850 times its own weight on its back. 

Bill and Bob by Cathie Pilkington 

A life size tromp loil tableaux comprising of painted bronze jack russells, Bill and Bob, who swim in a puddle of rubber 

Cary Grant by Graham Ibbeson 

A life-size bronze of Hollywood legend Cary Grant commemorates the achievements of the actor, who was born and bred in Bristol. 

Small Worlds by Simon Thomas 

A dramatic 18ft cone expressing colour, light and heat. Commemorating Nobel Prize-winning scientist/mathematician, Paul Dirac. 

William Penn, William Tyndale and Thomas Chatterton by Lawrence Holofcener 

Spanning three centuries, Penn, Tyndale and Chatterton were all communicators who left a lasting legacy. Interact with them and temporarily distract them from their work. 

Zenith by David Ward 

A dramatic integrated light piece comprising 52 runway lights. Inspired by an analemma, the line traced by the sun recorded at noon over the course of a year, as used in the past by navigators, explorers and astronomers. 

For further information on the At Bristol public art commissions see the At Bristol website or the related links on this page. 

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    Image Caption

    Beetle, Nicola Hicks, At Bristol, Bristol. Photo: James Harris, courtesy of Bristol City Council.

  • Beetle Beetle

    Image Caption

    Beetle, Nicola Hicks, At Bristol, Bristol. Photo: James Harris, courtesy of Bristol City Council.