IT is still. Your eyes are shut. Standing and waiting for the wrapping, a careful molding, to abate. Then after muscle-numbing time, a small chiseling. And slowly, each section of the outer shell comes away to reveal a burst of air, rebirth. This is the process taken by the British artist Antony Gormley to make his thoughtful sculptures. His body is wrapped and dried in plaster. Then, the resulting mold is cut away in preplanned sections, joined together again, adjusted, considered, made into fiberglass, and finally covered with lead sheets or cast in iron. The outcome is a richly textured figure, welded together piece by piece and expressing the waiting stance of the original living mold.
Gormley's process of making art is a long one. It takes many months of thinking, working, and refining. Patience must be the law. He cannot give in to a rushing temptation for shortcuts without compromising the contemplative nature of his work. Without emotional content the process of making the work would take over and the sculptures would be mechanical. Fortunately, Gormley's mind teems with ideas and he places great importance on the meaning of his work. The artist in him demands substance of vision, as well as perfection in craft; this keeps his art from staleness.
Upon seeing Gormley's last one-person show at Salvatore Ala Gallery in New York City, one was compelled to stand still and think. The work did not scream out with noisy lights, demanding attention, but rather unfolded itself to the viewer. It had an attitude that encouraged thoughtful contemplation. The smooth quality of the sculpture's surfaces with their subtle scratches and tones contributed to an atmosphere of quiet.
``Holding on to the Future'' is the title of one piece in which a figure holds another slightly larger figure, front to back. They are lying on their sides, so closely that they are, in fact, one. There is a struggle, although not violent. The viewer is drawn in to the internal nature of the struggling presented by the two figures, and reflects upon her own struggles in comparison. The artist touches a chord we share, our need to hold on to the future until it becomes now.
Another work, entitled ``Landing III,'' is two figures lying down, holding one another face to face. They are stretched out and look as if they had just landed. Their iron skin is scraped, but only slightly. The viewer can see that the landing was fairly smooth and wonders why. How can two people land smoothly? The artist gives us the answer. In ``Landing III,'' the figures embrace and they are made of iron. Gormley seems to be saying that if we hold on strongly, not letting go, we will land safely.
One especially moving work in the show was ``Field.'' It is a field of about 120 eight-inch-high terra cotta figures. They are arranged in a starlike pattern all facing inward toward the central circle. Each one is individually made and impressed with great feeling. They stand erect with eyes full of anticipation. These are simple beings. All look to the center although there is nothing to be seen. Yet, there is something. The viewer becomes one of the figures, waiting and looking toward the unseeable but deeply felt source.
Along with the figurative works, there are some abstract sculptures. There are hollow boxes of lead, alabaster, and concrete, with tiny windows in their sides. The windows are small but significant entrances into the blocks. They let the air circulate and the rock breathe. One dark box has two small white stones resting on top. Like two blossoms growing from the pavement, the stones remind us that sometimes tender-ness abides in unlikely places.
Finally, in a separate room, there were two solitary sculptures. One was simply a small pile of lead bullets, entitled, ``Seeds.'' Little ``Seeds'' of destruction. The other was a kneeling figure, its feet attached to the wall, a few feet above the floor. It is called ``Sick'' and looks as though it will slide down and drop flat on the floor. The slouching of the physique and the dull sheen of its lead surface hints at the discomfort portrayed. Perhaps Gormley is saying, by the positioning of the two works, that the man is sick of society's brutality. It is welded and entombed in lead.
This last room portrays a desperate situation and, yet, in the next room there was inspiration and future possibilities. Gormley showed us a choice. In one room there was sickness and destruction. In the other there was struggle but there was also hope and safe landings.
Gormley does not provide easy art. He is an artist with grit. He is unafraid to show his ideas. His art gives without preaching, offering itself to viewers with humility. There are no intellectual disguises which fake importance. The sculptures are simply honest renderings of the artist's determination to express himself.