Everything about this book says “serious”. The simple it-is-what-it-is title printed in black and red using an architectural serif font and the taupe cloth binding immediately put it on the reference shelf. You can’t help handling it with reverence and its smallish format makes it easy to hold in both hands, rather like a Japanese businessman presenting his card.
I don’t mean that to sound as though I’m knocking the book’s pretentions; I’m not. However, if something demands to be taken seriously, it creates a level of expectation about its contents. Can it live up to its own billing? Well, the blurb tells me that the Gormley (as I think of him) “presents his work and artistic influences in his own words” (their bold italics). So, if this is the master’s voice, it wants you to know it. No ghost-writing here.
The first thing you notice on initial acquaintance is that it’s copiously illustrated. It’s all colour and there are no dodgy transparencies, no getting away with it because it’s an important subject and it was the best we could get. You’d expect no less, but you don’t always get it. Big tick there, then.
The blurb also describes Gormley as a “highly visible sculptor” and I know what it means. His works, especially The Angel of the North, are impossible to miss and are recognisable, even if abstracted, forms. Most of the general public would recognise the name, which is not a common thing, even in such a public art form as sculpture.
You may have noticed by now that I’m taking my time getting to the content. This is because I’m not sure how much is original to this book and how much it’s a compilation (an editor is also credited). Does this matter – after all, if you want the collected thoughts of a major living practitioner, wouldn’t you be glad to have it made accessible however it’s done? The book is divided into four main sections. Body Space and Body Time: Living in Sculpture explores the artist’s thoughts on the human form (as you’d expect, it’s his main theme) and looks at some of his major installations. Sculptors is adapted from a series of radio talks (this is where the known-to-be-rehashed material comes in) looking at influential pieces by Epstein, Brancusi, Giacometti and Beuys. In Mindfulness, Gormley discusses the influences of Buddhism and Jain on his work and a final chapter, Expansion considers some of his more recent pieces.
The one thing you may notice from that rather exhaustive listing is that this is, I think, more a book about Antony Gormley than it is about sculpture. True, the illustrations give a different picture and the text does indeed range wide and exhibit a great awareness of the world of sculpture as a whole. Remember, though, that this is the man who bases most of his figures on his own body. Nothing wrong with that – as I said earlier, his forms are abstracted and you have to start somewhere. Even so, there’s a lot about how other people have influenced Gormley rather than how they themselves have been influenced.
I’m maybe being a bit picky and, whatever the book is, Antony Gormley’s views will always be of major interest and importance. For all that, I can’t help thinking that it’s not, au fond the major survey of the history and practice of sculpture that the title and presentation would like you to think. Maybe Antony Gormley on Antony Gormley would sum it up better.
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