Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 November 2019


born 1950, British

cast iron

72.5 x 37.0 x 32.5 cm

edition: unique

signed with initials, dated and inscribed on base: AMDG 2719 / 2015

$350,000 – 450,000
Sold for $549,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 59 - 27 November 2019, Melbourne

Sean Kelly, New York
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above in May 2016

Catalogue text

With his original training as an anthropologist, revered English sculptor Antony Gormley creates figurative forms that synthetise mind and matter, an affective association that is subjective to each viewer. His is an art of big statements, condensed into solitary figures set against landscapes or confined within manmade spaces. As his current major retrospective at London’s Royal Academy of Arts demonstrates, Gormley’s practice has steadily evolved over forty-five years, moving from the iron body casts that won him the Turner Prize for contemporary art in 1994, to increasingly abstract figurative sculptures and installations reliant on audience participation. Since the early 2000s, Gormley’s artistic process has involved sophisticated 3D mapping technology, translating human forms into complex constructions of small geometric prisms. Small Yield, 2015, is no exception, belonging to a recent series of sculptures collectively named “Big Beamers”, using closed steel beams to create volumes that could be described as human architecture. The Art Gallery of Western Australia holds examples of this series in their permanent collection, Big Yield, 2015 (the larger-than-life version of Small Yield) and Big Pluck 2, 2016, which stand as sentinels at the entrance of the gallery.

While Gormley is loosely associated with the rag-tag group artists of New British Sculpture, he stood alone with his unequivocally figurative subject matter, using his own body as the archetypal form symbolic of the everyman. Almost always built from direct plaster moulds of real bodies, then cast in iron and lead, Gormley’s sculptures reflect negative space enclosed within, and, by extension, the space in which the works are then displayed – the gallery itself becoming a larger enclosure of the form. Until recently the contours of Gormley’s body forms have been smooth and recognisable, often emphasising the vertical and horizontal axes that defined the body enclosed within. This is the case with Bridge, 1985, which was exhibited alongside the Big Beamers at Sean Kelly Gallery in 2016. These main axes are integral to digital scanning and three-dimensional modelling technology which have revolutionised the artist’s methods of creation since the early 2000s, transforming the mechanical measuring of Vitruvian proportions into a sophisticated mapped matrix (still based on the artist’s own body).

Small Yield repeats the trace of the artist’s body, of his existence in space and time ad infinitum. As a three-dimensional form of x, y and z co-ordinates, the sculpture traces not only the external edges of the artist’s body but its internal volume, replacing the positive space that had formerly been occupied by Gormley’s earthly, physical body. Small Yield is a net, with lacunae between the vertical and horizontal beams, interstices which let in light, air and shadow. By using geometric prisms (cubes, blocks and beams) to construct an anthropomorphic form, Gormley adapts his volumetric lexicon to fit within the orthogonal matrix of the urban grid and of virtual space – the defining space of our era.

Gormley’s volumetric permutations of the body take analytical cubist figuration further than Picasso and Braque’s wildest dreams, deep into a reductive process of abstraction. The digital changes to Gormley’s artistic process also created change in the emotive resonance of his sculptures. Small Yield, like the other Big Beamer works, is far from expressionless. While remaining anonymous, they convey powerful emotions. Like thespians, their posture suggests a magnitude, crippling woes or jubilant ecstasy. Gormley spoke of this seismic transformation in his practice in 2014:

‘… when making plaster moulds, I was very concerned to avoid interpretable gesture, but with the advent of fast turnaround digital registration, I am now able to interpret the affordances of an emergent built structure […] and respond by attempting to speak that language in my body posture. This is a case of feedback that is only possible with the very latest evolution of our ability to dip in and out of the digital and respond to the built models in the moment of scanning. There is therefore an acceleration in the development of posture and the works themselves are links in a developmental loop.’1

Reading this sculpture through the lens of our digital age, it is difficult not to describe the aggregation of steel blocks in terms of pixelation. In recent years, Gormley’s process of body mapping has reached its apex, moving through reductive ’slab works’ to spindly webs and matrices of soldered wires. These works are intended to be visually unstable. To eyes accustomed to screens and digitally constructed images, the miraculous apparition of a human form amongst the blocks seems it could just as quickly crumble and disintegrate. Gormley has fixed the physical body in a solid and static form, a moment of taut and delicate balance, poised as if to move again. Neither solid, nor load-bearing, these sculptures are irregular lattices without a central armature – built instead of building blocks, symbolic of a cosmological constant. True to his roots in New Sculpture, Gormley’s work is surprisingly tethered to the earth and the elements, acknowledging the touchstone of primordial creation. His sculptures are cast in molten iron, the very element at the core of our world – that which ’defines the density of our planet, gives us our magnetic field and keeps us on our orbit through space’.2 Small Yield was further immersed in a tank of tannic acid, which allowed the bright orange rust to turn charcoal black, endowing the surface with a tactile velvety texture so inviting to the touch.

Digital scans of a human body have no dominant perspective, different to the conventional frontal representations that have appeared in artworks since time immemorial. These scanned, printed and cast sculptures are true sculptures in the round, intended to be circumnavigated, removed from plinths and placed directly within a shared space with the viewer. Using the construction principles of architecture, Gormley considers the body in space and as space.

Gormley’s art is deeply humanist, with a reverence for science and all creeds of spirituality. With calm attentiveness to the inner world and human connection cultivated through decades of practice of Buddhist meditation, Gormley has spent his whole career creating shells and volumes that speak to the space within, both physical and psycho-spiritual. Against other works from the Big Beamer series exhibited at Sean Kelly gallery, Small Yield is not heroic. Its curled-over form conveys an inner struggle, huddled and self-protective. Similar to Giacometti’s striding figures, Gormley’s works exhibit a sense of physical solitude and vulnerability. Small Yield is an image of a body tending to itself, its own condition, a reflective moment of introspection. It is this empathetic moment that Gormley seeks, evoking rather than expressing, its anonymity inviting the viewer to project, empathise, imagine and relate.

1. The artist, 2014, cited in Jaukkuri, M., ‘Being, Looking, Meeting with Others’, in Antony Gormley MEET, Galleri Andersson Sandstrom, Stockholm, 2014, p. 90
2. Holborn, M. (ed.), Antony Gormley on Sculpture, Thames and Hudson, London, 2015, p. 48