Antony Gormley is a familiar figure in the world of sculpture, and the show currently at The Royal Academy explores his work right back to his beginnings in 1970.
His best known work is probably the ‘Angel of the North‘ . Created in 1998 it sits on a mound beside the A1 motorway in the north east, and was built to mark the end of an era in Britain with the closure of the Lower Tyne colliery. The angel, still seen by thousands on their journey north, was built from the remains of pit head baths.
Obviously the angel is not in this current show, but the work on show has an equal power to move and to provoke feelings about the human body and its role as a ‘place’ of experiences, memories and emotions, as Gormley describes it. As with the Angel, his choice of materials reminds us of those structures that we so often take for granted, such as the reinforcing steel bars found in concrete.
Several of the works were created specifically for the spaces at the academy, and induce a sense of marvel and wonder.
Matrix, shown above, contains 21 room sized cages surrounding a small chamber the size of a new build bedroom in Europe.
Walking beneath and around it distorts perspective and creates a degree of visual confusion. Watching visitors enjoy the experience is a pleasure in itself. I had a very friendly encounter with a suited, silver haired gentleman called Charles…. he had been videoing me while I had been photographing him….. he apologised that his tie was not properly done up. I thought that probably no one would mind….
There is a lot to think about and a lot to play with…… which makes it a very friendly exhibition. I had many conversations with strangers, all excited about the work and wishing to share their feelings.
There were steel reinforcing bars to clamber through……
…. tunnels to walk through, large enough to accomodate a mother and her child in a buggy who dived into the darkness…. and made it into the massive cave filling one room entirely.
gravity defying men to bump into…….
and figures curled up on the floor, initially appearing as random blocks of steel, until you looked more closely.
Equally fascinating were the myriad of notebooks documenting ideas and workings.
As one who has taken a long time to find the perfect notebook for my own use, I was intruiged by his consistency of choice, which changes only a couple of times over many years. A ring bound notebook does allow pages to be ripped out without upsetting the aesthetic of the notebook.
There are drawings too. And a room full of clay and seawater….. earth, air and water, changing and responding to the environmental conditions in the gallery over time. The temptation to step in was overwheming for some children….
and in the courtyard outside was a tiny bronze sculpture of a 2 week old baby, lying on the ground, cast from Gormley’s own daughter.
I found it so vulnerable that I didn’t feel able to photograph it.
This is a show that uplifts and provokes.
It needs to be experienced to fully comprehend its subtleties.
I’ll say no more.
The exhibition runs until 3 December 2019
More details here