Untitled (for Francis) is a figurative sculpture made from a plaster mould, which is reinforced with fiberglass and sheathed in a skin of dark grey lead. This outer casing is comprised of twenty-four panels welded together, the pale grey solder lines forming a visible grid across the figure, imposing a geometric structure on the natural form of the body. The stance of the figure is open; it stands with feet apart, head tilted backwards and arms extended so that its palms face forwards. The lead surface has been punctured in the breast, hands and feet by five small apertures, recalling the pose of a Christian saint receiving the stigmata.
This work was made by the British sculptor Antony Gormley in London in 1985. The mould of the figure was shaped from the artist’s body. He collaborated with his partner, the artist Vicken Parsons, to create the mould. Posing nude, Gormley was wrapped in cling film then covered with two layers of plaster and scrim on open-weave jute cloth. Once set, this shell was cut off and reassembled. It was toughened with two layers of fibreglass and polyester resin before twenty-four pieces of roofing lead were hammered over the mould and soldered into place, creating a slightly enlarged cast of the artist’s body. The casting process has simplified the figure, omitting facial features and the details of the hands and feet.
Gormley began creating sculptures cast from his own body in 1981. He has said: ‘I regard my body as the vehicle through which all my impressions of the world come, and equally I want to use my body as the vehicle through which anything that I have to communicate with the world can be carried’ (quoted in Nairne and Wyver 1987, p.104). The artist’s idea of the human body as a site of dialogue is demonstrated through the receptive pose of the figure in Untitled (for Francis). The work is installed in a space without a barrier, with the figure’s open stance welcoming the viewer’s approach. Once within the sculpture’s proximity, the five eye-shaped apertures in the lead become apparent and invite the viewer to look past the figure’s exterior and into its centre. The material qualities of the lead also reinforce this sense of dialogue, as the muted glossy surface absorbs and reflects the light.
The artist left this work untitled in order to deter any specific iconographic reading. However, the subtitle suggests a depiction of St Francis of Assisi. The sculpture’s open stance recalls the famous portrayal of St Francis in Giovanni Bellini’s painting St. Francis in Ecstasy c.1479–85 (Frick Collection, New York). St Francis of Assisi is known for his love of nature and his belief in a universality between creatures. Gormley’s allusion to the saint supports the artist’s ideas about the importance of receptiveness that are explored in this sculpture: ‘I think it is to do with openness to all levels of being. I think you could conceive of St. Francis as being somebody who realised the interdependency of life and I think he is curiously contemporary in that way.’ (Quoted in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986–88 1996, p.48.)
Untitled (for Francis) is one of a group of seven figurative sculptures made in the early 1980s whose hieratic gestures illustrate the artist’s interest in the elemental power of the human body. Gormley had intended that these works would be supplemented by two more figures and installed together; however, the artist later abandoned this idea, stating: ‘I was thinking of those mosaics in Ravenna and the idea of a series of works that defined architectural space, through which you would walk. It didn’t work because the figures hadn’t been conceived [as such] from the beginning. In the end they were too disparate.’ (Quoted in in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986–88 1996, p.48.) Untitled (for Francis) is the only one of this group of figures included in the Tate collection, although the artist is also represented by figurative installations such as Testing a World View 1993 (Tate T12034) and Three Ways: Mould, Hole and Passage 1981–2 (Tate T07015). These works share with Untitled (for Francis) a concern with the human body. Following the predominance of minimalism and conceptual art in the 1970s, artists such as Gormley, Shirazeh Houshiary and Julian Opie began to revisit the figurative from 1980 in a movement that became know as New British Sculpture. This preoccupation with the body has continued to shape Gormley’s practice: ‘what I return to is not the figure in its allegorical, metaphorical, dramatic, political, or emblematic sense, but to the body as the locus of being.’ (Quoted in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986–88 1996, p.48.)
Sandy Nairne and John Wyver, State of the Art: Ideas and Images in the 1980s, London 1987, reproduced p.106.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986–88, London 1996.
John Hutchinson, E.H. Gombrich and Lela B. Njatin, Antony Gormley, London 2000.