28 Apr 2021
Antony Gormley Sculptures To See
We choose our five favourite sculptures by Gormley, available to see around the UK.
As we see the world opening up once again, we have compiled a list of our favourite sculptures to see around the UK by the artist Sir Antony Gormley.
Gormley is a British sculptor whose work mostly addresses the occupation of space both within and without the human body. He has positioned his site specific sculptures all around the world and as a rule each location is just as important as the pieces themselves. Gormley’s profound and unwavering interest in humans is intimate as well as being symbolic. Within his practice, he not only strives to change the way the sculptures are seen, but also the way we see the human form.
We choose our five favourite sculptures by Gormley, available to see once rules allow. Specifically we delve into his sculptures ‘Angel of the North’ (1993), ‘Another Place’ (1997) and his iron bollards on Bellenden Road in Peckham (2001), to name just a few…
‘Angel of the North’ in Gateshead
Whilst being a prolific sculpture in itself, Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ is also the largest sculpture in Britain. At the time of its construction, Gormley faced considerable opposition, a common trait of public art. However, the plans were eventually passed and the large scale sculpture is now recognised as an iconic piece of UK public art. ‘Angel of the North’ has quickly become a symbol of the North East and specifically Gateshead. Like most of Gormley’s sculptural works, ‘Angel of the North’ is based on a cast of his own body. It overlooks the A1 and A167 roads and the East Coast Main Line rail route, on view for many to see.
“People are always asking, why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them.” Antony Gormley
In the plans for the site specific artwork, Gormley chose the figure of an angel. Angels are multi-faceted symbols of hope, peace, solidarity and historical value. For ‘Angel of the North’, Gormley used this visual imagery as a reminder of the site’s industrial history. The sculpture sits on a site historically known as a miners’ place of work. Ultimately, the angel exists as a nod to the future and a symbol of the industrial transition to the Information Age. As well as this, the angel becomes a focus for people’s hopes and fears. Gormley’s piece is 20 metres high with a wing span of 54 metres, the wings are angles inwards to give ‘a sense of embrace’.
‘Another Place‘ in Liverpool
Crosby Beach in Liverpool is home to an array of Gormley’s alluring cast figures. Installed in 1997, Gormley’s 100 life size figures on the beach are cast iron and embedded in the sand to withhold tidal changes. In turn, as the tides fluctuate, each of the figures slowly disappear from view as the tide comes in. As the tide goes out, each of his figures gradually reveal themselves, each wistfully facing out to sea. Gormley spread each sculpture out along a full three kilometres of beach as well as one kilometre out to sea.
“I always wanted this to be an open work. The sculptures that comprise ‘Another Place’ are not statues of ideal or heroic figures from history, they are simply copies of my own body that I used to indicate a human space in space at large.” Antony Gormley
Each figure stares out into the horizon in quiet expectation. Gormley intended ‘Another Place’ to harness the rhythm of the tide, exploring the relationship between humans and nature. In this case, time is really tested by tide, as well as this there is a strong sense of permanence. Each figure undergoes the harsh and ever-changing seasonal changes, as seen in their weathered patina.
As said by Gormley, “In this work human life is tested against planetary time. This sculpture exposes to light and time the nakedness of a particular and peculiar body. It is no hero, no ideal, just the industrially reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured things around the planet.”
‘Sound II’ in Winchester
In his next life-size figure ‘Sound II’, Gormley created possibly his most mysterious sculptural work of them all. Placed in one of the largest cathedrals in England at Winchester Cathedral, the figure resides in the crypt. Winchester Cathedral’s crypts flood during rainy months but this is completely incorporated into the piece. Gormley intended the sculpture to be a permanent installation, however during these months, they have a very different effect. At this time, in‘Sound II’ , Gormley combines the light and floodwater and creates a wonderful effect alongside the dull lighting of the crypt.
“How do you make memory? What is the relationship between memory and anticipation? Can you make something that is physical which at the same time evokes the process of remembering? Is it possible to do this and make something fresh, like dew or frost – something that just is, as if its form had always been like this.” Antony Gormley
The visual narrative depicts a lone figure contemplating the water they hold in their palms. This gesture and its placement within the cathedral’s crypt become transcendental and spiritual. Although, Gormley did not intend for the figure to be directly related to religion, due to its habitat, the sculptures becomes just this. Within much of his work, Gormley recites a regeneration of interest in the human body, on an intimate level as well as a monumental one. In this case, his solitary metal figure retains a real sense of solitude and reflection. He attempts to materialise a new world with his sculptures, one which is spiritually reflective. The work is often not symbolic but indexical, each sculpture acts as a trace of a real event or a real body in time.
‘Bollards’ in Peckham
As well as figures, in 2001 Gormley designed a series of four different bollards. These were installed on Bellenden Road in Peckham, London. Important to note, these bollards were part of an initiative of renewal for the general Peckham area. However, there instalment provoked slight controversy due to their shapes and forms. This is because Gormley chose to design abstracted versions of a snowman, an oval, a peg and a penis. Eventually, funding was given by local traders in the area and the suggestive but beautiful forms remain on Bellenden Road today.
In a similar vein to his work discussed, his abstracted but recognisable forms are built from cast iron. They were modelled in particular to be shaped like recognisable forms, with a playful and emotive finish. As said by Gormley, “I love cast iron for its strength and earthiness. I hope these simple forms will sit on the street confidently and be the guardians of its two users, the pedestrian and the car.” In many ways, his bollards become guardians of the street, forming a barrier in the form of an artwork.
‘You’ in Chalk Farm
To conclude, we look at Gormley’s 2006 piece ‘You’, which sits upon the Roundhouse venue in Chalk Farm, London. Looking over Camden, Gormley’s figure follows on from his 2007 project ‘Event Horizon’. For this particular project, Gormley placed figures on the corners and far edges of buildings. The piece gained controversy and people often mistaken the figures as suicide attempts. Gormley made his piece ‘You’ as a commission in line with re-opening of the Roundhouse, the performing arts and concert venue. The dark figure stands straight on the rooftop, watching over passersby. Also, Gormley designed the figure to give the impression of being squeezed into a tight urban landscape.
As an artist, Gormley encapsulates the feeling of modern day creativity and above all, he sees art as a vessel for change. For this piece in particular, ‘You’ emotively depicts a widespread feeling of urban restriction. Within this reading of the piece, Gormley possibly is commenting on London living and the constraints it carries.
Sir Antony Mark David Gormley, OBE (b. 30 August 1950) is a British sculptor. To begin with, Gormley’s prolific career started with a solo exhibition in 1981 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. In his practice, Gormley bases almost all of his work on the human form, mostly using his own body to make his casts. As a result, Gormley defines his work as “an attempt to materialise the place at the other side of appearance where we all live.” Predominantly, his works are based on moulds he takes, which he casts in iron, bronze and other metals. His work is indexical, it mostly traces real events in time. Above all, he aims to treat the body as a space to occupy, often identifying this as a common condition to all human beings.
Gormley’s work has been widely exhibited throughout the UK and internationally with exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2019); Delos, Greece (2019); Uffizi Gallery, Florence (2019); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (2019); Long Museum, Shanghai (2017); National Portrait Gallery, London (2016), to name a few. Also, he was awarded the Turner Prize in 1994, the South Bank Prize for Visual Art in 1999, the Bernhard Heiliger Award for Sculpture in 2007, the Obayashi Prize in 2012 as well as many more.