02-09-03

An Angel

Billy Connolly on the Beeb yesterday, in his usual manner:

"I think the Romans hated the climate in Scotland. If you came from Rome and you were wearing a wee toga the Scottish climate isn't everything you could wish for. They decided to give it a miss about Northumbria and built this wall."

Actually I didn't see that particular bit -- I started watching too late, go here for more info on the show itself -- but I did see this:

Can't figure out what it is? It's awesome, it's beautiful, it's grand! I think I love it!

90,000 vehicles pass it every day. It stands 65 feet high and has a 54 metre (175 feet) wingspan, bigger than a Boeing 757 or 767 jet and almost the same as a Jumbo jet, it weighs 200 tonnes and rests on massive concrete piles that go 20 meters deep in the ground.

Can you imagine the technology that went into it:

[Diaphragms] - looking like ribs on the surface, they are actually 50mm thick horizontal plates which go right through the body - up to six metres by three metres and weighing almost five tonnes. There are five of these - the most crucial in the chest which line up with the horizontal diaphragms on the wings to provide a solid anchor point.

To be honest, since I was a small guy I was made familiar with the world of steel-construction and welding -- my grandfather was a blacksmith -- so I am quite well placed to understand what it took to build this. I'm just amazed.

Mind you, it's not only the numbers that count, not to me anyway. You have to take into account that the statue is built on a terrain where there used to be coal mining factories, and I see a few analogies there. Think of the endless manhours that were spent underground, the pain, the desperation, the sweat, the sickness. But yet, the Angel stands firm and tall, proud. Not moved by the Scottish windy storms. It's a tribute.

Almost Stalinistic you say? Megalomania? I don't think so, it's much more subtle. Look at the wings. Is that what an angel's wings are supposed to look like? "Carré", like they say in French? "Square-shaped?" Look closer: I Googled around to find more and more pictures of it, and the longer I looked at them the more I was thinking how difficult it is to take a picture of the damn thing. The pics I found just don't represent it in the right way. I don't think they can. You have to walk around it, bend your knees, turn your camera to get the right angle. And even then. That's what great art is about: it's almost as if there was only this one, maybe divine possibility: put the wings a bit more to the front or to the back and it would have turned out the wrong way. There hás to be some stiffness in this design.

That's why the wings are square-shaped. Picasso's lemons almost "looked" more acid than the real ones because they were like triangles. They weren't supposed to be round. It's not supposed to be an angel with feathered wings as well. It represents the harshness of The People Of The North, who worked underground for centuries. Their soul is in the statue.

While having the day completely influenced by this once-in-a-year meet-up with -- by now very popular -- culture I looked up some more links. Here's one from Brian Micklethwait, contributor to Samizdata but this is from one of his own blogs:

We are, in Britain, just at the beginning of a new golden age of public sculpture, heralded by the Angel of the North. This, to me, somewhat half-hearted figure has revealed, by the mere fact of its public existence, a huge fan base for public sculpture that is of something, that really says something and celebrates something, in this case, presumably, the rise of a new North of England from the rust and dust and mud of the old. The happy hubbub of talk that surrounds this somewhat banal but nevertheless appealing little figure, stuck up above the A1 just south of Gateshead, is in extreme contrast to the bitter and angry public silence by which all those Hepworth-style blobs were surrounded by when they were unveiled. And just like the architects before them, the sculptors have decided which response they prefer, and are lunging for public glory. Good for them.

I should think so. For the art-lovers: in this blog of his Brian is focusing on a lot more of the artworld.

Here and here's where I found a few more pics (the last one has a few good ones for desktop purposes I think, just browse through folders 5 and 6).
If anyone has more pics to contemplate or any comments, don't hold yourselves back!

Shock & Awe, meet your master, in all it's beauty. Antony Gormley, thank you for The Angel Of The North! Ullapool, I'll be back!

Update (11th March 2004): Ross Noble, stand-up comedian, in one of his shows, when asked what he thought about The Angel Of The North:

Oh, I think it's fantastic! But hey, you know what? It was only up for about half an hour and it was already called "The Gateshead Flasher"! [hilarity ensues--ed.]

Ah, English humo(u)r ... love it.


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