By Jacqueline Knox
Antony Gormley – Royal Academy of arts
Last days : until 3 December
Antony Gormley is an internationally renowned sculptor. In this exhibition at the Royal Academy London we are invited to explore our relationship to the sculpture in a series of encounters. In the words of the artist
“.I want to use sculpture to throw us back into the world, to provide this place where the magic, the subtlety, the extraordinary nature of our first- hand experience is celebrated, enhanced, made more present”. ( copyright Royal Academy , London).
On entering the first room we encounter ‘hard-edged steel slabs’ laid out in various ways. As we walk around this room these slabs reveal themselves to become human bodies lying, standing and curled up . Similar to the Iron Baby, 1999 in the courtyard there was a fragility to the curled up figure despite being made of hard edged steel. These early works ( late 1970s and early 1980s) in the first two galleries enable us to see the thinking and development behind his later work. I was drawn to a lead sculpture of a wrapped knife. Lead is malleable as a medium but it also concealed the knife. Only on closer looking could you see the form. This technique of wrapping and beating sheets of lead would develop further to his later work of casting and wrapping his own body.
Gallery 3 housed 8 kilometres of coiled steel.Clearing VII, On entering the space we were able to explore it, walk inside and even touch it. Once inside this coiled spring it was possible to experience the intensity of it. Rather similar to a child’s intense scribbling and reminiscent of Giacometti’s sketches, one had the feeling that removing the roof would result in the spring escaping upwards forthwith. Maybe this was a reflection of how I was feeling but the spring was both ethereal and strong at the same time and bound by tension.
Heading out of Gallery 3 was Co-ordinate VI , a tense wire connecting 4 galleries and an ‘escapism’ of Clearing VII and Dense Matrix III. Gallery 5 was empty apart from this thin piece of extended wire but it reminded me of a tense tightrope which could be a metaphor for life.
Gallery 6 is full of drawings and preparatory works. Gormley always carries a workbook and here they were, spanning four decades. This was a highlight for me to see his workbooks and appreciate the thought processes and the working out that had gone into the work. Also, to see something as complex as Clearing VII begin as a series of tiny sketches was just exquisite.
Gallery 11 housed Cave, 2019. Reminiscent of Richard Serra’s work , was a huge bronze sculpture on an architectural scale. Despite being claustrophobic I chose to enter the Cave. Inside I was rewarded by the play of light arriving through the sculpture from above and reactions from those alongside me whom I could not see. The structure itself is on an architectural scale of a body lying on its side, reminiscent of the bronze baby in the courtyard and the sculptures in the first gallery.
After this heightened sensory experience we have Host 2019. A room full of seawater, not processed tap water, that is part of the natural order of things. This room of water, obviously reflective, reminded me of a flood and no doubt the beginnings of life itself. A very philosophical and reflective piece.
In the words of the artist “ this exhibition is all about how the viewer responds to the work and the subject is the viewer”. I found this to be true as I was drawn to intimate, fragile drawings, scribbles full of space and a room empty except for the seawater.
If you are in London this weekend …go. You may learn a little bit about yourself.
To visit also
William Blake (1757-1827)
11 September 2019 – 2 February 2020
“Painting is drawing on canvas & engraving is drawing on copper and nothing else drawing is execution & nothing else &he who draws best must be the best artist” William Blake 1809/1810
JMW Turner’s modern World
28 October 2020 – 7 March 2021
How J.M.W. Turner broke with convention to paint the times in which he lived
Peggy Guggenheim and London
24 september – 14 december 2019