Artist Profile: Antony Gormley

5 August 2021

Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles, 1993, is one of his most celebrated works of art. Consisting of 40,000 individual terracotta figures, it is the largest single artwork in the Arts Council Collection and is currently on display at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at National Glass Centre, the first time Gormley has exhibited in Sunderland. 

Antony Gormley is renowned for his distinctive representations of the human form. He has become one of Britain’s best-known artists, creating sculptures, installations and public artworks which explore the body, relationships, space, consciousness and collectivity. 

During the late 1980s, Gormley began to delve into his interest in multiple and collaborative pieces, marking a turning point in his practice with a different approach to looking at and making the human form. The first Field was made in 1989 and consisted of 150 figures made by the artist and his studio assistants. Versions of Field were subsequently made in Australia, Mexico, Sweden, Brazil and China. With each iteration Gormley moved away from making small scale versions to larger, more immersive installations such as Asian Field, created in the Guangdong Province of China and comprises over 200,000 figures.

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Each version was created with volunteers from the community such as students, workers, local residents, young children and families. To produce Field for the British Isles, Gormley worked with about 100 volunteers aged seven to 70 years old from St Helens in Merseyside. To make the figures, each person was given a lump of clay, a small pot of water and a pencil to make the eyes. Gormley described this process of making the figures in an interview in 2012: “that repeated action of taking a hand-sized ball of clay, squeezing it between your hands, standing it up and giving it consciousness becomes meditative, the repeated action becoming almost like breathing, or a heartbeat.”

Since its acquisition Field has been seen by over 500,000 visitors in Aberystwyth, Carlisle, Colchester, Gateshead, Gloucester, Lincoln, London, Salisbury, Sheffield, Shrewsbury, St Ives, Yorkshire, St Helens, Somerset, and now Sunderland. It has been displayed in venues as diverse as a train shed, a vacant shop, a cathedral, a gallery, and a warehouse. At every new venue, the installation is completed by local volunteers working with team members from the venue and the Arts Council Collection, sometimes taking up to five days and as many as 20 volunteers. The images below were taken by Jodie Edwards, General Manager, National Partners Programme, during the installation in Sunderland in July 2021.

 

Arts Council Collection: Artist Profile: Antony Gormley
Arts Council Collection: Artist Profile: Antony Gormley

I think the making of Field was maybe the first and most clear expression of a longing for sculpture, as it were, it be a participatory activity. And it is a precious thing that this work continues to be cared for, continues to be seen, continues to be relevant through the agency of the Arts Council Collection.”

Find out more about this work and the process behind its creation in the film below with Antony Gormley.

 

Antony Gormley: Field for the British Isles is on view at the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art (NGCA) at National Glass Centre, Sunderland until 25 September 2021.

To coincide with this display of Field for the British Isles, there is also an exhibition of twelve drawings by Gormley at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

Find out more at Sunderland Culture's website.

 

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The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.