Creator of featureless humanoids and an angel so monumental it has transformed the landscape of Gateshead, for the past thirty years Antony Gormley has been using his own body as a template. Casting it in clay, lead and bronze, the result is a collection of mute figures, inexpressive and isolationist, that exert an unnerving hypnotic power over the viewer. Gormley studied anthropology at Cambridge, and Buddhism in India, and his chief concern is with the human psyche, and its relationship with the outside world. His sculptures are invariably situated in public places, watching humanity’s struggle with a cold, totemic indifference. It is for this reason he is often described as a public artist; yet he rejects the distinction between ‘art’ and ‘public art’, arguing that all art ‘desires and demands to be seen’.
Out of this World is an early clay and lead sculpture. Gormley has discussed in the past how unpleasant it can be to work with lead – it is a nasty, noxious substance. Yet his appreciation of this metal is partly autobiographical. Born in 1950, Gormley grew up during the precarious political climate of the Cold War. From the 1960s to the early 1980s there was a pervasive belief that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust. Many of Gormley’s early sculptures reflect this terrifying conviction, and his choice of lead was inspired by the material’s ability to insulate against radiation. Out of this World consists of a clay figure crouching on top of a large head made from lead. The head is hollowed out, like a shelter, and Gormley has indicated that this could be a protecting case for the figure above. The grid across the face could also represent the lines on a globe, suggesting that this is an existential experience in which the seated figure is cowed by the vast, untrammelled cosmos in which it is suspended. The head is also reminiscent of Constantin Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse (1909–10), an icon of Modernism and one of the components to a group of sculptures that culminated in a simple ovoid called The Beginning of the World (1920). Gormley’s version could be interpreted as its apocalyptic opposite.
(C) Jessica Lack 2009
1 Gormley in interview with John Tusa for BBC Radio 3. accessed February 2009.
2 Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.
3 Dallas Museum of Art.