Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Artist report for my Arts and Human Values Class

Antony Gormley
Arts and Human Values

British artist and sculptor Antony Gormley was born August 30th, 1950, as the youngest of seven children, to prosperous family in Hampstead, England. Gormley studied at Ampleforth College; Trinity College, Cambridge; and various other colleges in London, before completing his education with a postgraduate course in sculpture at the Slade School of Art. In the middle of his artistic education, he spent five years in India and Sri Lanka to study Buddhism. In 1994, Gormley won the Turner Prize with Field for the British Isles. He is currently a trustee of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

Though he has been known to work in several media, (such as terra cotta, wood, and bread and wax) Gormley is mainly known for using metal castings of his own body. According to radio interviews with the BBC, Gormley prefers to actually be a part of his work materials while creating his pieces, to truly feel the experience he is trying to inspire. His casts are done with the help of his wife and a workman. He is first covered in cling wrap (i.e. plastic wrap), which provides a better barrier between him and the plaster than Vaseline does. Then his wife applies the plaster and after it dries, she cuts him out of the mold. Then fibreglass and metal (usually lead) is used to create the figures. Gormley feels the skin-like nature of his sculptures is so important that he will often list "air" as a material used.
Gormley is known for making the setting part of his works. In Total Strangers (1997), his metal figures are placed not only in the museum, but outside as well, with one figure looking at another through a window. In Land, Sea and Air II (1982), he has three figures in various positions on a beach, contemplating the elements. Scuplture for Derry Walls (1987) has three sets of double figures, standing back to back, one always facing towards the Catholic regions of Ireland, while the other faces the Protestant regions. Each figure gives the impression of setting a boundary and blocking the way. A piece I find most intriguing is Learning to Think (1991), which shows five figures hanging from the ceiling as if their heads were above it. Better know works of Gormley include his Field series, Iron: Man (1993), Another Place (1997) and Angel of the North (1998). An apparently lesser known piece is the Oslo Holocaust Memorial (2000), where he forgoes his normal penchant for human forms and has six empty chairs instead.

Antony Gormley firmly believes that art is meant to be a universal experience and not just something for people with disposable income. Art has the potential to connect people to the real world and themselves. The redemptive qualities of art cannot fully be realized in specialized settings such as an art gallery or museum or other refined spaces. Art galleries have an important part in the art world, however they should not be the final goal, but as a means to get art into the real world, where it can work on the souls of everyone.
[side note: you can find the works mentioned if you go to Antony Gormley's main site and click on "walk through".]

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