Antony Gormley’s sculptures are some of the most instantly identifiable in the world. He engages directly with the human figure, and specifically his own, and utilises it as a tool to investigate the body as a place of memory and transformation. He is interested in exploring how human beings fit into the social and natural landscapes they inhabit, how they understand identity and how they engage with one another.
Gormley is probably best known for the controversially enormous Angel of the North in Gateshead. Erected in 1997 it towers over the landscape, its wings outstretched as if embracing the communities below. Another Place on Crosby beach also caused a stir, when 100 cast-iron figures were installed on the sand. Engaging with the environment as the tide rises and falls, these figures have truly become part of the landscape, both individually - with barnacles adopting their rough surface as a home - and as a whole by being granted permanent status in 2007. More recently Gormley captured the British public’s imagination when he launched One & Other, a project to fill the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square with live sculpture. Over 100 days and nights, 2400 people, representing every region of the UK, were selected at random to spend an hour alone on top of the plinth.
Born in London in 1950, Gormley’s work has been profoundly influenced by his experiences of Buddhist meditation in India and Sri Lanka in the early 1970s. His sculptures are meditative and quiet, and engage on a personal level with the viewer. In their naked simplicity their appearance is universal. Gormley believes that our spiritual and physical selves are inseparable and as such the location his figures occupy is especially important. Whether it is several together or a lone figure standing looking out to sea, Gormley’s works directly explore man’s relationship with his surrounding environment. His sculptures have been installed around the world, inhabiting deserts in Australia and roof-tops in New York.
When Gormley positions his sculptures in the public realm he is deliberately encouraging the public to engage with them, on their own terms, not in a purpose-built gallery space. Individuals may intentionally seek out the sculptures, others may happen across them, but whatever way they are encountered these mysterious figures evoke questions about the place of humankind in the surrounding world.
More recently, alongside continuing to cast his own body, creating works such as 6 Times, Gormley has become increasingly interested in energy systems, rather than mass and volume. He also continues to experiment with scale, varying from human-sized sculptures to the colossal Firmament installed at Jupiter Artland. Opinions are often split about Gormley’s public work but his ability to engage and provoke is undeniable: art is not something that must be enjoyed in an art gallery, but rather be something that is encountered everyday and which encourages debate and stimulates memory.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art also own an early work Present Time and a portfolio of etchings Body and Soul.