Antony Gormley

Untitled (for Francis)

1985

Medium
Lead, fibreglass and plaster
Dimensions
Object: 1900 x 1170 x 290 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1987
Reference
T05004

Summary

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.)

Further reading
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.

Phoebe James
May 2016

Display caption

This sculpture is a plaster mould of the artist’s body, reinforced with fiber glass and encased in a skin of soldered lead. Gormley uses his own body to examine the physical and spiritual relationships between humankind and the natural world. He says: ‘sculpture, for me, uses the physical as a means to talk about the spirit…a visual means to refer to things which cannot be seen’ .

Gallery label, October 2016

Catalogue entry

T05004 Untitled (for Francis) 1985

Lead, plaster, polyester resin and fibreglass 1900 × 1170 × 290 (74 7/8 × 46 × 11 1/2)
Not inscribed
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Exh: Von Chaos und Ordnung der Seele, Psychiatrischen Klinik der Universität Mainz, April–May 1987 (no number, repr. p.6, installation view, p.83 in col.)
Lit: Veit Loers, trans. Rita Pokorny, ‘Calling upon Matter’ in Antony Gormley, exh. cat., Städtische Galerie, Regensburg 1985, p.42, repr. pp.36, 43 (not exhibited); Tate Gallery Report 1986–8, 1988, p.87, repr. (col.). Also repr: Sandy Nairne, State of the Art: Ideas & Images in the 1980s, 1987, p.106 (col., installation view, third from left, as ‘work in progress’ and dated 1985)

‘Untitled (for Francis)’ is a plaster mould of the artist's body, reinforced with fibreglass and encased in a skin made from sheets of soldered lead. The lead surface varies in colour from dark to light grey. The sculpture has been pierced in the breast, hands and feet by small apertures. The attitude of the eyeless figure, standing with head tilted back, feet apart and arms extended to display the palms of its hands, resembles that of a Christian saint receiving the stigmata, although it is ‘wounded’ in the breast, rather than, as tradition dictates, in the side. The artist said that T05044 is untitled to discourage too specific an iconographic reading. However, he explained that its subtitle refers to Giovanni Bellini's painting of St Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata, ‘St Francis in Ecstasy’ (c.1479–85, repr. The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue: Volume II Paintings, New York 1968, p.205 in col.).

The human body has been the major subject of Antony Gormley's art. As early as 1973 he made plaster sculptures which were casts of sleeping bodies covered by sheets, for example, ‘Sleeping Place’, 1973, (repr. Antony Gormley, exh. cat., Salvatore Ala, New York 1984, fig.1).

Gormley has worked with many different materials, including lead, iron, wood, stone, clay and bread. He made the sculpture ‘Bed’, 1981, for example, by eating the volume of his body out of a block of sliced bread, leaving behind in two halves a life-sized negative impression of his recumbent form (repr. ibid., fig.8).

Gormley first used lead to wrap found objects, for example, the twenty-four objects that make up ‘Natural Selection’, 1981 (T 03681, repr. Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982–4, 1986, pp.189–90). Since 1981 he has frequently used lead as a casing for moulds taken directly from his own body. The resulting hollow and, more recently, solid iron forms have presented the artist's body, standing, sitting, crouching, reclining, bending or curled into a foetal position. These figures have been exhibited singly, in pairs, and in groups.

‘Untitled (for Francis)’ is one of a group of seven standing figures made at around the same time, whose simple but hieratic poses exemplify the artist's concern for the elemental power of the human body (repr. Nairne 1987, p.106; as ‘work in progress 1985’). Gormley told the compiler (31 August 1990) that he had originally considered making nine figures and presenting them together as one work but decided against this: ‘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.’ Reading from left to right, Gormley identified the works in the photograph in Nairne 1987 as:

‘Bridge’, a figure with arms by its sides and head tilted up (private collection, Los Angeles).

‘Membrane’, a figure with arms stretched upwards and out (unfinished).

‘Untitled (for Francis)’ (T05004).

‘Standing Ground’, the central figure with arms stretched out horizontally (private collection, Stockholm).

‘Sound I’, (private collection, USA). A second version, ‘Sound II’ is installed in Winchester Cathedral (repr. Antony Gormley, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool, 1994, p.59 in col.).

‘Across the Air’, a figure with arms raised, seen to the right of ‘Sound’, described by Gormley as complementing T 05004 (private collection, Belgium).

‘Breath’, a figure with hands raised (artist's collection).

In his sculptures Gormley often emphasises the principal apertures of the body, contrasted with the mute ‘blind’ surface of the lead. Gormley 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’ (Nairne 1987, p.104). In T05044 these concerns are demonstrated by the open, receptive pose of the figure and, more literally, by its hollowness, revealed through the five eye-shaped apertures which pierce it. These eye-like wounds suggest an openness to outside experience, as well as providing access to the centre of the work.

Gormley told the compiler that he had made only two works which were dedicated to named individuals. One was T05004 and the other was ‘Desert for Walter’, dedicated to the American land artist, Walter de Maria (b.1935). Gormley dedicated T05004 to St Francis because of the Saint's connection with the stigmata and as a ‘good model for all sorts of reasons. 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’.

The five eye-shaped ‘stigmata’ in T05004 were cut into the hands, feet and breast, in the position of the heart. This breast aperture has four slits extending from cardinal points around it. The artist told the compiler that he liked the fact that he had had to make a cross-shaped incision in the lead to create it. ‘I could have welded those cuts together but I decided not to ... It was important to me that that the “eye” was at the heart [of the work] and that it identified the centre of being and I quite like the house shape, or pentagram, that is formed by the five holes.’ He also commented on the redemptive significance of the ‘wounds’ in T05004. ‘For me the work suggests that in order to be whole you have to be wounded.’

The artist told the compiler that T05044 was made at Chisenhale Studios in Bethnal Green, where he worked for two years. First a mould was made. This early part of the process has generally been a collaboration with the artist's wife, the painter Vicken Parsons. It involves wrapping Gormley's naked body in clingfilm and then covering it with two layers of plaster and scrim, on open-weave jute cloth. The artist commented to Roger Bevan (‘Learning To See, an Interview with Antony Gormley’, in Yehuda Safran and Roger Bevan, Antony Gormley: Learning To See, Paris and Salzburg 1993, p.35) that the wrapping process, while functional, had become ritualised and that he found it very therapeutic. ‘It is a meditative experience and I suppose that I learned about the space within the body from meditation.’ Once set, the plaster and scrim shell that had been built up around Gormley's body was cut open and reassembled. It was reinforced with two layers of polyester resin and fibreglass and twenty-four pieces of lead sheet were then hammered over the cast. He was assisted in making the work by Richard Glassborow, who made the fibreglass cast, and by Stephen Pippin. (Four stages in the casting of other similar figure sculptures are illustrated in Nairne 1987, p.105.) The lead used was code 4 standard roofing lead.

The sculpture is free-standing. In conversation with the compiler, the artist commented that the work should be exhibited isolated in a room or gallery, opposite the point of entry and top-lit with natural light. It should be shown without barriers.

It shouldn't be against a wall. The space that the work is installed in is part of the work ... It is very important that the work is placed axially in a space, so that you come to it frontally, so that the sense of being in the body of the viewer is registered by whatever that space is which is contained within the lead skin of the work.

Gormley went on to discuss the meaning of ‘Untitled (for Francis)’ in the context of his work as a whole:

I ought to premise all this by saying the thoughts that I might have about the work now may not be the same as the thoughts I had about the work [when it was made] ... on the whole you work completely blind but as you go on things that you made before begin to take on meanings ... You refer back to them in ways you wouldn't have known before because they start making connections ... [What] constantly needs to be asked is, why would somebody at this end of the twentieth century, in which the most exciting and most relevant breakthroughs in contemporary art have all been towards abstraction and a universalization of language through abstraction, return to the figure? I think my answer to that is that the body is also universal and 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. That is universal and that is a point at which my existence can become both material and subject in the work. Why is existence itself a subject for art, when ... aesthetics have to do with other more qualitative kind of responses? There are two important reasons. Firstly is that I want to centralise my work within a wider understanding of what creativity is, or can be a catalyst for, and secondly I am concerned about the survival of the world and the human beings in it, both on a personal and on a universal level.

I felt at the time I made the sculpture [T05004] that you have to confront the world with the reality of living in a nuclear age, with a sense of the relationship between personal responsibility and global balance ... All of my work is trying to identify human space in space that can be used as a place of contemplation, as a sounding-board for notions of self. The work isn't simply an object in space, as sculpture in the nineteenth century was, a kind of point of aesthetic reference ... to be enjoyed as you might enjoy a beautiful fountain or a beautiful bowl of fruit.

There is an invitation, or a demand, that the sculpture makes of you; and this is very unfashionable in terms of the dogmas of self-referentiality in modernism or the multivalency of post-modernism, and yet this is very necessary for me, because I think of the work primarily in terms of my relationship with it. It is a questioning of my own being and I feel that I have to pass that on for the work to be authentic. That is why there are installation requirements. You are putting the viewer in the same position in relation to the work as your own. You are creating a field in which the viewer becomes an active participant and unless that is engineered with a degree of conscious control some of the potential in the work is going to be lost. With ‘Untitled (for Francis)’ ... the embrace of the work has to be sensed physically as well as being viewed visually and that is carried by the reality of the material. Lead has a very strong force-field, both in the way it works electromagnetically, on an atomic level, and the way that it works with light, the fact that the surface both absorbs and reflects light, like water. Then there is the piercing of that hermetic skin with these wounds, or these abstractions of wounds, that become eye holes that give onto the interior, so that the darkness within the case then becomes not only visible but an active force, that looks out. I had a feeling about wounding and wholeness and using the whole stance of the body, the whole feeling of that stance, which is both alert and relaxed, which is both assertive and receptive, which is both whole and wounded. It is an attempt to make whatever is real internally in terms of a state of mind and being, active on the surface, or embodied in a skin, or carried by a skin ... I'm trying to make a bridge between the value of individual experience and an idea of participation in a wider field socially, politically, spiritually.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

Audio

Untitled (For Francis) by Anthony Gormley (Catalyst)

The artist hopes his art can work as a catalyst for considering our own lives
Audio

Untitled (For Francis) by Antony Gormley (City)

The artist asks us to consider his work in relation to our environment