I have very fond memories of in the early 2000s seeing Gormley's figures standing like extras from City of Angels on the top of various buildings across London, some of them were at street level. I was looking forward to seeing them and see them I did at a exhibition of his work at the Royal Academy. We might as well start with them. They were assembled in the middle room, all of them the same dimensions, varying in amounts of rust on them. They face in different directions, some of them perched on the wall (as seen above), some standing on the ceiling. It is oddly calming and there was one brilliant period of time when a man was standing next to a statue in exactly the pose of the statue. I suspect the statues are hollow. Incidentally when Gormley portrays figures, he only portrays men. Why is that? I suspect in fact he only portrays himself.
There is then a room of early work,. You are greeted as you enter this room by a long rectangular plank, on which in slowly increasing sizes are chesnut like pieces made of metal. It is very pleasing. There were two other pieces in this room I also really liked. Once called mothers pride was the outline of a figure made out of cut pieces of white bread, preserved in wax. A powerful and humorous image. However my favourite piece was this bowl (above right). It is called Filled Bowl, or something like that and as you can see it is just a series of concentric bowls, made out of a lead like material. It appeals to me. I wanted to pick it up, sadly you cannot. I like its solidity, its uniformity and its decreasing size.
Then you turn left and the madness starts. Occupying almost the entire inside of one room, with just enough space around the side for the squeemish to avoid it is a tangle of metal rods (above). They are in fact a series of metal circles, arranged like the orbits of electrons in several colliding atoms. You have if you wish, and I suggest that you do, to scramble through the assemblage. The metal makes a clanging sound if you hit it, and this cacophany resounds throughout the room. I choose to treat it like the scene from Entrapment where they are avoiding the lasers, and tried to get through with no bongs being sounded. You can if you are suitable nubile, which it appears I am.
Your reward is a far room, with one sculpture, a figure of a man seemingly made of metal jenga bricks. He is a very huncy man. After a few minutes of contemplation/recovery you can make your way back out through the maze.
Sitting mostly alone in a room is a very large series of metal square fencing (above left). What is that horizontal wire you ask. Well that you will have to go and find out for yourself. As with many of this show, this sculpture which I believe is called Matriz rewards viewing from many angles. As you can perhaps see, there are different densities of fencing arranged in interlocking squares. Differing lights and density of wire.
Now a word about drawings. There is a room of lots of drawings. Intriguingly there are four glass cases showing, suspiciously neat pages from many, many of Gormley's note and sketch books. Some of them are very good art in their own right, but all of them are interesting in terms of his process. There is what appears to be an early idea for what became the Angel of the North. Anyway as light digression. There are a series of intriguing black and white paintings (above right). They are done using Charcoal and Casein (what is casein, please tell us). They are quite simple pieces but riff on Gormley familiar themes of what is a man/figure of me.
Other more subtle pictures make an appearance (above left) and I like the more shadowy blurred figures. Particularly creepy is the sort of flying man in the top picture and the one below and to the right of that has a distinct resemblance to the angel of the north. It is nice seeing the genesis of an idea knocking around in someones brain.
Just off this room , in a circular room, are two giant rusted metal conkers, one larger than the other, gently oscillating on the end of stout ropes. It is very pleasing.
Following this are a series of cement slabs with hand or foot prints, impressed into the cement. These were a bit dull to be frank, probably the weakest thing in the show and made me want to see Rachael Whiteread who is much more interesting with her cement casting. They while away the time though while you briefly queue.
What are you briefly queening for you ask. Well occupying the next room is a large series of metal square tubes, arranged like some slumbering transformer. Again you can skirt around the outside, or you can if you wish choose to crouch down and enter the tubes.
It is like being in the film alien and it brings you into a large cathedral like atrium, with light streaming down from high up apertures. The atrium is not regularly shaped and some of the angular protuberances resound with different tones if you strike them. After you have had your fill of this you can emerge into the final room.
More paintings with strange materials. There are a series of red and black paintings like the one above left. The red is made by a combination of earth and rabbit skin glue (and yes it is made from rabbits). Some of them are very disturbing and the red earth produces a very striking effect.
My favourite paintings though were these two of cream and black (above right). The black is just black pigment, but the cream is rendered with the return of linseed oil, which gives this stained cloud like effect. I like these very much and find them very calming.
Taking materials to more extreme now we have blood. Whose blood is not specified, or indeed the species that the blood is from. The immediate assumption I made is that it was Gormley's but of course it could simply be pigs blood from a passing kidney. The best of the blood paintings is the one above left. Brains! The shift in tones is very effective.
I have left until last, my favourite piece/installation of the whole show. There is a room. The floor is covered in earth and clay and then the room has been flooded with water up to a depth of about half a meter. A surprising cold seeps out of the room. I often have dreams of flooded buildings and this reminded me of that. It had a profound calming and mediative effect and I liked it very much. I may go back just to see this. It is worth going just to see this.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.