Let’s start 2013 with a confession. I’m an art-o-holic. I love visiting art galleries and sculpture parks. I can’t get enough of them.
One of my favourite artists is Antony Gormley who is renowned for his sculptures of human figures, often cast from his own body.
January started with a trip to one of the seven wonders of the modern art world – Gormley’s piece de resistance – the Angel of the North.
For the uninitiated this giant sculpture stands proudly off the main A1 road in Gateshead.
Every day 90,000 people drive past the angelic figure on a prominent hillside on their way travelling north or south.
Its outstretched arms appear to welcome and embrace travellers before sending them on their way with its spirit of goodwill.
From a distance the Angel stands out against a landscape of motley urban sprawl and scruffy farmland.
Its striking 54 metres (175 feet) wingspan is bigger than a Boeing 757 and almost the same width as a Jumbo jet.
The soaring figure is 20 metres (65 feet) tall, equivalent to the height of a five storey building or four double decker buses.
It’s thought to be the largest angel sculpture in the world.
On angel’s wings
Readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of destination art so it’s great to have one of the world’s finest located a few miles down the round from where I live.
But I also adore the Angel of the North’s reassuring presence.
I love the whole concept, a brilliant marriage of art and engineering, melded together by the genius of Antony Gormley.
The shape, the changing colours in different light and seasons, its evolving, weathered frame all combine to provide a work of art that never stands still despite its static, rooted nature.
When it was first constructed, it’s hard to believe that the Angel of the North wasn’t universally popular.
Some of its critics declared it a waste of money, a monstrosity and a blot on the landscape.
Today, it’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been won over by the towering giant.
From a distance the Angel is a huge presence but it takes on an entirely different feel when you’re up close and personal under its wings.
Once close to the art work you can only lean back, stare upwards and gasp in amazement at its size, raw power and solidity.
It’s an overwhelming work of art in many ways. Gigantic, overpowering, awe-inspiring.
I loved watching Tony compare the size of his feet with the Angel’s, only to discover that the angelic one is at least 80 times larger.
I’ll never accuse Tony’s feet of being too big ever again!
What is the Angel?
A lot of people who come to see The Angel ask ‘what does it represent?’.
Antony Gormley provides a few clues. He’s been quoted as saying that no-one has ever seen an angel so “we need to keep imagining them”.
Perhaps we love the Angel so much because we want to dream, take flight and imagine something other-worldly?
But for some people it has a deeper, spiritual significance… even religious or iconic.
I love the Angel because I enjoy its shape and textures, its ribbed body and the effect of the rippling light on this giant mass of solid steel.
Artist Antony Gormley says that the angel works on several levels… and I can see exactly where he’s coming from.
He wanted to reflect the history of the site as a mine and “remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for 200 years”.
“There is a poetic resonance,” said Gormley.
“Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now in the light, there is a celebration of this industry. The face will not have individual features.”
He has also refers to how the Angel expresses the “transition from the industrial to the information age”.
For me, I rather like its strangely archaic feel. It’s a bit like going to Stonehenge and standing before the stones in awe and wonder… and enjoying its power.
Interestingly, the hilltop site was important to Antony Gormley because he wanted to give “the feeling of being a megalithic mound”.
He sees the sculpture as an evolving thing, a bit like a stone circle or monument that weathers over the centuries.
In the end you’re left with a powerful series of emotions. A bit like prehistoric man trying to figure out the meaning of life, art and the universe.
Everyone has different reactions to this enormous art work.
Angel of the North – Fact file
A few random facts about the gigantic Angel of the North…
- The Angel of the North weighs 200 tonnes with the body clocking in at 100 tonnes and the wings 50 tonnes each.
- The steel which makes up the sculpture is enough to make 16 double decker buses or four Chieftain tanks.
- The sculpture is made of steel, with a small amount of copper, which forms a patina on the surface that mellows with age.
- The main sections of the Angel, which are up to six metres wide and 25 metres long, were transported to the site by three lorries with a police escort. In fact, Tony van Diesel was there filming the Angel’s arrival with a TV crew in 1998.
- The site is a former colliery and the actual location of the Angel was formerly a pithead baths.
- The Angel of the North cost £800,000 when it was erected.
Tammy’ Top Tips
- The Angel of the North is located off the A1 in Gateshead in Tyne and Wear in the North East of England.
- There’s free car parking next to the main road. Park up and walk the short distance up to the sculpture along the circular path way.
- Try visiting the Angle at different times of the days such as sunrise and sunset for some interesting changes in lighting. The Angel can also look quite different in winter to summer or autumn.
- Combine a trip to the Angel with another large sculpture, Northumberlandia, located about 8 miles north in Newcastle upon Tyne.
- Another nearby cultural attraction is the Baltic Gallery in Gateshead, about 2 miles up the road.