Antony Gormley is one of the most acclaimed British artists. Although varied in form, his sculptures are stylistically unified by a thoughtful, silent stillness – a reflection of his interest in Eastern philosophy and Buddhism originating from his experiences travelling in India and Sri Lanka in the early 1970s.
Gormley's work can be seen in many major cities around the world and he is acknowledged as a leading maker of art in collective space. One of his major works, Another Place (1997), consists of 100 cast iron sculptures cast from his body, placed on a beach near Liverpool, looking out to sea.
In Japan, Two Times (2012-2013), a recent project in the Museum of Modern Art, Hayama, Gormley created two works: one in iron, one in fibreglass; one looking out to sea, the other contemplating the mountains and sky.
He says, "the body is not an object but a place we live." His work is a meditation on the human condition, and bears witness to what it is like to be alive. He has consistently attempted to make sculptures that objectify interior states by using his own existence and physical self as material, tool and subject. Parallel to his body works, he has made structures and instruments that encourage the viewer "to engage with space, time and nature."
In the field of contemporary British sculpture―home of many artists of world-renown, including Henry Moore and Anthony Caro
―Antony Gormley is one of the most eminent, providing a new interpretation of the "body". Traditionally an important theme for sculpture, he treats it less as an idealised object and more as a vessel: the intimate architecture of feeling.
Born in London, he studied Archeology, Anthropology and the History of Art at Trinity College, Cambridge. His father was a pharmaceutical manufacturer, one of the early producers of penicillin in Britain and later in Asia. His father's tales of India intrigued him and he travelled there first in 1969, returning to India and Sri Lanka in the early 1970s to study Buddhist meditation. His eastern travels lasted for three years.
"Experiences during regularly enforced afternoon naps as a child, of the inner body space as a dark expanse similar to the night sky, connected with my experience of meditation, opening up the possibility of consciousness without object. Much of western thinking encourages one to act in the world, to seek to have an effect. I am interested in learning to be."
Many of his most recognisable pieces are solid iron casts of the space that his body once displaced. They are the tangible evidence of a lived moment of human time, captured in a plaster mould. The resulting objects (or "corpographs" as Gormley describes them) carry the stillness that is intrinsic to their making: they are never dramatic gestures. Their silence expresses potential rather than acting something out; summoning our empathy rather than illustrating an emotion.
Gormley's sculptures are highly acclaimed and from the early 1980s onwards, have been exhibited internationally. His installation, Another Place (1997), permanently installed on Crosby Beach near Liverpool in North West England, exemplifies the essence of his sculpture. One hundred cast iron body forms are placed on a consistent horizon line over three square kilometres of tide-plain. They face westwards out over the ocean, in the same direction as the early settlers heading to America and the Europeans escaping intolerance that followed later. The sea and the possibility of sailing over the horizon have often been seen as a source of hope for those wishing to make a new world. The viewer's mind inhabits the void bodies that submerge and emerge according to the tides, and through them, relocates in time and space.
Recently, from August 2012―March 2013, the Museum of Modern Art in Hayama, Japan, held an open-air exhibition entitled "Two Times." Two subtly different body forms were placed in the landscape: one looking inland towards the mountains and the other out towards the sea.
Gormley's works are not exclusively based on his own body. From the late 1980s onwards, he worked on the installation Field, in which tens of thousands of small clay ﬁgures are exhibited in one place. This project has been recreated in several places around the world and each time Gormley has invited local co-creators to swiftly make hand-sized body shapes out of lumps of clay, giving them holes for eyes. These works are entirely collectively generated, and look at the future and possibility of the collective power of human beings.
"The body is not an object but the place we live." This way of thinking has been Gormley's central theme, though its expression changes throughout his work. The iron bodies, the clay "Fields", One and Other (the project for the Fourth Plinth in London's Trafalgar Square where 2,400 people in turn occupied a plinth for one hour), to Blind Light (a cloud-ﬁlled room in which visitors lost their bodies), are all different manifestations of the same central thought.
In his daily life, Gormley rides a bicycle, trying to be active but mindful. As he says, "the body is the best spaceship anyone could ask for."