“No one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them”
- sculptor Antony Gormley on angels
'Angel of the North' by British artist Antony Gormley is probably Britain’s most famous work of public modern art. And it has earned that fame since it was completed in 1998. Industrial change in the north east of England has seen whole mining communities lose their livelihoods, leaving behind little but memories and a sense of pride in their mining heritage.
Gormley’s towering statue, made from local steel and with a wingspan the size of a jumbo jet, sits outside Gateshead on the northern edge of the Durham coalfield. Part celebration, part memorial, and part hope for the future, its rusting surface seems to symbolise the toil of the mining communities and the resilience of the region.
As Gormley himself said: “When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now in the light, there is a celebration of this industry.”
Using large-scale public art to attract new visitors and to help stimulate regeneration is a growing trend. Liverpool has also benefited from Gormley’s public art, with 'Another Place' on Crosby Beach. He placed 100 cast iron figures along 3 kilometres of the beach, in a haunting display that attracted tens of thousands of visitors.
But outdoor sculpture in Britain has been around for hundreds of years. To see, or stumble across, large contemporary sculptures in outdoor landscape settings can be a wonderful experience.