This bronze abstract sculpture is ovoid in shape, emphasizing its skin-like texture that, by being deeply slashed and violently gouged, evokes the ruined features of a human head. Lying on its side and disembodied, the form takes on the suggestion of an artifact, subjected to destructive forces but persisting. In the mid 1950s, Turnbull began exploring the motif of the disembodied head in his paintings and sculptures, as he said that the word "head," "meant for me what I imagined the word 'Landscape' had meant for some painters - a format that could carry different loadings." He added, "The sort of thing that interested me was - how little will suggest a head, how much load will the shape take and still read head, head as colony, head as landscape, head as mask, head as ideogram, head as sign, etc." Head 3 is a clear example of this exploration of the shape, its damaged silhouette suggests threat or the aftermath of violence. The emphasis upon the form's raw materiality and the inclusion of the violent marks of the artistic process was seen by Reyner Banham as an artistic expression of Brutalism.
Born and raised in Scotland, Turnbull first worked as a laborer before beginning to study illustration and then turning to sculpture. Whilst studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, he became friends with the fellow Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Art critic Michael McNay described how, "The two discovered their mutual enjoyment of comic book images - Paolozzi was probably the first artist to employ them directly in his work - and, from Paolozzi, Turnbull learned the direct approach to sculpture, modeling in cement or in wet plaster around an armature, neither of them methods encouraged by the Slade at that time." Incising and gouging the wet plaster with ordinary objects like pencils and pen points, before casting the shape in bronze, Turnbull said he wanted "texture to invoke chance, to create random discoveries, not elaborate the surface, but to accentuate that it was a skin of bronze." At the same time he adopted the non-hierarchical artistic approach of the Independent Group and left the display of the sculpture to chance, encouraging viewers to handle the objects. The simplicity of Head 3 echoes the work of Constantin Bracusi, whose Paris studio Turnbull visited in the late 1940s when he was studying at Slade. It's primary influence however may be that of Jean Fautrier's Otages (1942-45) series, produced at the end of World War II, which were described by art critic Andre Malraux, as, "A hieroglyph of pain."
By the mid 1950s, Turnbull had become interested in ethnographic objects that he studied in the British Museum. As art historian Toby Treves wrote, "Turnbull...shared...a specific interest in the theme of the abstracted, assembled head and a more general desire to break cultural hierarchies. While Paolozzi's challenge to the traditional separation of high and low culture involved the direct incorporation into his work of elements from the mass media and the technological world, Turnbull's work, which fed off an equally wide range of cultural sources, among them tribal art and natural forms, did so only obliquely."