Posts Tagged ‘art’

Antony Gormley And 2 Modern Icons (Or Maybe It’s 4)

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I have just been for a short family visit to Corbridge which is from where I hail.  I am born and bred in Northumberland and have Northumberland, the Tyne and the North coursing through my veins and deeply embedded in my psyche.  I love the North and North Yorkshire is about as far South as I will ever go again – I did London for 5 or so years, but it was not for me.

And as we go North, the gateway to Tyneside and Northumberland is heralded by the brooding figure of the monumental Angel of the North that has protected the region from harm since 1998, but sadly not helped its football teams.  It fascinates me how it is that two works by Antony Gormley, a Londoner by birth and working, have become for me some of the best works of sculptural art in recent years – The Angel of the North (1998) and a temporary series of ice sculptures, Three Made Places (2005).  For more on Antony Gormley, go to

The Angel of the North is a massive, hulking structure of rusted steel that dominates the skyline as you are coming from the South on the A1(M), as you start going down into Team Valley, or (if you’re heading the other way) it seems to loom in the distance.  The Angel is a big, muscle-bound presence with his wings stretched outwards like 2 aeroplane wings that are vertical rather than horizontal, which has always struck me a bit odd, a tad rigid and clumsy – this does not feel like an angel that will glide down the hill.

For me, it is almost a metaphor for the North East as it looks Northwards towards the Tyne Valley.  This was once a region redolent with smells and sounds of heavy industry, but gone is the coal, the steel and the shipyards.  It stands near the site of the Team Valley and its ribbed body reminds me of the rigid structure of a ship’s hull.   It would no longer be odd to carry coals to Newcastle because this centre of coal mining for 500 hundred or more years is no longer a centre for this carbon energy source.  And the steel was forged in Hartlepool Steel Fabrications and not in a shipyard or metal basher on the Tyne (when Richard Steenberg fled from the Germans when they they invaded Danish Jutland in 1851 he settled first in Hartlepool). 

Is the Angel symbolic of the North’s decline or is it by turning its back on the South trying to say to us to dream and to fly to our dreams?

Three Made Spaces were carved out of the thick white ice on the Island of Svalbard in the Arctic Sea whilst on the 2005 Cape Farewell Voyage.  Cape Farewell (see is an amazing concept run by David Buckland, a photographic artist, who brings together artists of all genres with scientists on trips to parts of the world impacted by climate change; most of the journeys have been to the Artic.

Three Made Spaces was created with Peter Clegg, an architect from London, who came up with the idea that we need to visualise a kilogram of carbon dioxide as humans are visual creatures and being told you emit xkg CO2 a year is not very easy to relate to.  He worked out that the space enclosed by 1kg CO2 is which is 0.54 square metres or roughly the size of a coffin or the space around a human being.

Three Made Places, therefore seeks to express man’s CO2 emisssions in sculptural form; it comprises Shelter, Standing Room and Block.  You can read more about their thoughts on the work at

However, for me the simple work, Standing Room, is the most interesting – it is an upright block of ice, carved to the shape roughly of 1kg CO2.  It is a very clean, simple and crisp icon for climate change; it gives you the size and shape of the problem that we are creating for the planet, which also happens to be roughly the size of a human.  The sculpture is like carbon emissions man-made, and because it is in the Northern Polar region, it reminds us that the whole world is being impacted by our actions not just our own local regions or even just the extremes of the planet. 

Finally, there is an irony in that like the ice in general it is an impermanent work of art – it will be destroyed by the elements, whether more snow, wind, sun or global warming and so like the ice and other environments it will change with the elements thrown at it by the planet’s weather systems. 

We need to adapt to the changes and mediate our actions to reduce the potential scale of the changes, but are we even aware of the immediacy and closeness of the problem?

Autumnal Leaves Falling

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Autumnal leaves are falling everywhere.  They have hung on in there for quite a while longer as we have had a short spell of decent warm weather and very little wind.  But even so, nature cannot be stopped and even the delicate finger-like leaves of our wisteria have turned yellow and will soon have all gone until spring next year.

The River Skell at Fountains Abbey

The River Skell at Fountains Abbey

It’s a time of the year that makes you feel artistic.  I think perhaps the light is softer, making the edges of objects all fuzzy, rather than the sharp precision of winter and summer.   The smells are also old, ancient, the smells of decay; another year over.

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

I am reminded of a painting by Sir John Everett Millais that hangs in Manchester Art Gallery – “Autumn Leaves”.  John Ruskin wrote of Autumn Leaves that it was “the first instances of a perfectly painted twilight”.  I am not sure about the twilight but it does conjur up autumnal smells and sights.

In it, 4 girls stand around a pile of autumnal leaves piled up high – the 2 girls in the centre wearing deep black are Effie’s (Millais’ wife) 2 younger sisters and the others are local youngsters, Matilda Proudfoot and Isabella Nicol.  The setting is Annat Lodge in Perthshire, where the distant hills are a deep purple of twilight in the distance.

In the foreground there is a heap of papery fallen leaves, piled high having been brought there by the girls in whicker baskets.  Yellowish-green, bronze, red are the leaves, mimicked by the russet and deep purples of the younger 2 local girls as their clothes blend in with the colours of the season.  The youngest girl stares wistfully at the leaves and holds a chewed red apple in her hands.

There is a strong emotional intensity as these young girls stare out at us – it is twilight, the end of a year, yet they are just starting out.  The earth is perpetual cycle of renewal (spring) through to growth and beauty (summer) and ageing (autumn) before death (winter).  Then during winter, the earth is actively replenishing itself ready for another year of growth and death, in a perpetual cycle.

But maybe its more a time for poetry rather the visual arts; maybe poets are the more melancholic of the artists.