“What do you think of our Verity?” is the question on everybody’s lips when you visit Ilfracombe in Devon.
Verity is the south west of England’s answer to the Angel of the North, a giant-sized sculpture which has been creating controversy since she arrived a couple of years ago.
Even the farmer where we were staying in Coombe Martin asked us the very same question when we arrived after a day trip to the resort.
He was keen to know whether we thought Verity was a masterpiece or monstrosity, especially as the artist, Damien Hirst is his next door neighbour.
Up close with Verity
Verity is a bold and visually striking piece of art. Either you love or hate her – there is no middle ground in this artistic controversy.
The 66 feet high sculpture dominates the harbour at Ilfracombe where she towers over the town like a warrior princess.
This stainless steel and bronze monument was created by Brit Pop artist Hirst who is never far from controversy. From his sharks in formaldehyde tanks and farm animals cut in half, he’s one of Britain’s most talked-about and divisive artists.
Verity is mild-mannered in comparison with his other work, a fine figure of a female looking out with her triumphant pose towards the Bristol Channel.
Verity is the tallest statue in the UK so it’s hard to miss her, even from the far end of the harbour. She provokes a gasp from passers-by as they spot her enormous presence for the first time. ‘What the hell is that thing?” shouted one baffled visitor standing next to me.
Ilfracombe’s reputation as a Victorian seaside town and popular tourist hotspot has been rocked by the sensational sculpture which has divided opinion. Verity attracted over 100 letters of objection even before she arrived in the town.
Love or loathe her, you can’t help admire the boldness of Hirst’s vision – and I have to admit that Verity grew on me after the initial shock.
Verity’s two faces
The sculpture is an amazing feat of creation so how was she made? And how the hell did she get transported to Ilfracombe? You can’t pop her on the back of a lorry.
The making of Verity was a delicate and difficult process. First, a two-foot tall maquette was created of Damien Hirst’s design. This was scanned to make an enlarged polystyrene copy of her separate parts.
Then this larger model was sculpted, sprayed and sanded before bring cast.
Verity is so large that the stainless steel and bronze figure had to be cast in 40 separate sections.
The sword and the upper left arm, which gives the statue much of its height, is made from a single piece of polymer-strengthened fibre.
The individual bronze panels were made for assembly at the Pangolin Editions foundry up the road in Gloucestershire.
Verity was two years in the making before being assembled on the harbour front at Ilfracombe. She was so large that the sculpture had to be hoisted into position using a 250 tonne crane.
I wondered if she’d be able to withstand the forces of nature. You may be surprised to hear that Verity is both weather and lightning proof.
She underwent extensive wind tunnel tests to make sure that she could stand the force of high winds and sea spray. Having walked along Ilfracombe’s windy seafront, I can understand why!
Who is Verity?
There’s much more to Verity then first meets the eye. She has two very different sides, one quite shocking.
Look one way and you’ll see the body of a pregnant woman holding a sword aloft while carrying the scales of justice. Turn to her opposite side and you’re greeted by her internal anatomy with her baby curled up inside.
So who is this giant of womankind?
Verity’s name means ‘truth’. Damien Hirst describes his work as a “modern allegory of truth and justice”.
Art critics have compared her to the famous Edward Degas sculpture of the Little Dancer, a work that inspired Hirst in earlier creations.
So what do I think about Verity? For me, she’s a giant of a woman who dominates the seafront and the town beyond. She is bold, brilliant and brave.
I love Damien Hirst’s vision of womanhood as strong and decisive, a force for fairness and equality.
Not everyone goes along with my view, complaining that she’s ugly and scary. But one thing everyone does agree on is that Verity is truly unmissable!
Tammy’s Travel Guide to Ilfracombe
Ilfracombe is on the north coast of Devon in south-west England. This attractive seafront town gets busy in summer when it’s a magnet for day trippers, families and caravaners.
There’s a choice of accommodation from hotels and B & Bs to nearby holiday cottages and caravan sites. Late spring is a good time to visit to avoid the crowds.
Whilst you’re visiting Ilfracombe don’t miss the Damien Hirst shop and gallery called Other Criteria on The Quay opposite the marina.
Shopping in the gallery is a huge temptation. I splashed out on a bag designed by the artist featuring his pharmacy art work. But there’s also plenty of Damien’s art works to buy, if you’re feeling rich.
Look out for the special Damien Hirst deck chairs decorated with his trademark butterflies and his designer beach towels at reasonable prices. There’s stacks of merchandise in the shop that won’t break the bank.
Explore the town on foot with the bracing walks along the cliff tops being one of the highlights. ‘Windy Corner’ has great views over the Bristol Channel but does what it says on the tin. It is incredibly windy and exposed.
For those looking for gentler pursuits, don’t miss the famous Victorian tunnels which give access to a private beach – there’s an entry charge but it’s worth the price if you fancy a more sheltered beach haven.
Hand carved in the 1820s the four tunnels and cove are a good choice for families with kids, with activities including rock pooling.
Boat lovers will enjoy a stroll around the harbour or an excursion on one of the many boat trips to Lundy Island or up the coast. There are specialist wildlife boat tours and sea safaris too.
Finally, walk up to the top of the town where you’ll find St Nicholas Church, the oldest lighthouse in Britain and the site of an ancient church.
Dating back to 1321 the tiny chapel was built as a place of worship and maintained a light to guide shipping into the harbour.
There’s still a small chapel with historic displays about the town’s history. Admission is free. It’s a good place to hide away from the weather whilst taking in the views on a cold and windy day.
From here there are aerial views over the harbour including a very different perspective on Verity down below. Looking down on Verity makes you realise just how large she is.