An interview with Antony Gormley by Annette DiMeo Carlozzi
ADC: Antony, please tell me about the period of time that you spent last winter at ArtPace in San Antonio. What had you hoped would come of that several weeks-long period of time and what, in fact, did transpire?
AG: Well, for me it was a wonderful opportunity to be away with the family and to concentrate on working in a free, yet focused manner on drawing. I have always made drawings, but recently they’ve become something that I do while on holiday, which is the only time that I get away from making sculpture.
ADC: Did you expect to respond in any particular way to the environment of San Antonio and Central Texas?
AG: One’s aware in San Antonio, as in other places in Texas, that there is a lot of sky and a lot of distance, but I felt with San Antonio that somehow the relationship of the river and the railway and the road were all very present. I remember one evening sitting up on the roof of ArtPace, and there was a front of weather coming across the city with unbelievable thunderstorms to the east and a clear sky to the west in which the sun was setting. And then, through that, flocks of black birds; and there was something about that moment which seems peculiar to Texas which is located at the meeting point of the Atlantic and Pacific weather systems. Texas is also a meeting ground of cargo and migrations coming from all directions. That idea of transmission, and also the flatness, openness and the presence of the sky, is somehow in the drawings.
ADC: Does your work often draw inspiration from landscape.
AG: Yes, it does. Not in any very direct way, perhaps, but I think there is always a sense in which the body relates to a place, and the place then tells you things about your body that maybe you didn’t know before. During the residency, I got out to Enchanted Rock and one or two other outlying spots, and I got a sense of the dryness and what the earth was made of. I think you sense these things bodily, and that comes through in the work in one way or another.
ADC: The drawings that you completed while at ArtPace are striking for many reasons, not the least of which is your choice of materials. Can you please talk a little about that?
AG: Yes. For me, drawing isn’t about making pictures, it is about testing ideas and testing materials, as well.
At ArtPace, I used a handmade, quite thick, paper that is designed for etching. The process of evolving an image in drawing for me is that you might have a conceptual form, but then you test it in relation to how a material or a substance will relate to the paper. It is very important to me that through the series of twelve drawings you’ve got substances that sit entirely on the surface of the paper, like the melon, some that are absorbed within the body of the paper (the oil), and others that sit amongst the fibers of the paper (the charcoal). The relationship of substance to surface meshes with the ideas of meaning and iconographic content. I think there is a tension, I hope there is a tension. Together, they set up a kind of mesh in which certain thoughts and feelings can be caught or held.
One of the underlying principles of the work is that, in some sense, consciousness is not limited to the human body. The idea of making a connection between the material and the mental is as much a part of these drawings as is making intimate an idea of distance, which I think is characteristic of the experience of the middle of America.
ADC: Do you expect the drawings to create or evoke an intimate experience or understanding?
AG: I am aware that drawings, because they’re direct, are more accessible. They are revealing the character of the person who made them. Yet I am working not to make them simply virtuous.
These twelve drawings came to find each other as a sequence, not that I think they have to be read in any particular order, but they inform each other. For instance, if we look at Room, it describes in architectural language the minimum space necessary for one person to occupy. Source, which is made from a local hot sauce, identifies a completely fluid space that could be conceived of as a vagina or a womb or a becoming in which nothing is fixed. Lay is trying to talk about sedimentation, the idea of what lies beneath the surface of the visible world. (I think the titles of all the drawings are quite important and act as a sort of key to understanding.)
You could say that in Bridge, I have taken that idea of a layer and made it into a horizon, and rather than talking about relationships between above and below, I am now talking about relationships between here and there. Broadly speaking, you could characterize the whole project as an attempt to undermine dualistic thinking – the idea that here is part of there, in being everywhere – an idea of making the distance intimate, recognizing that notions of identity and place can be defined by ideas of horizons…
I guess I evolved the form of Space maybe ten years ago, using the form of the human body to talk about extension. Somehow the cross, with its Western and also ancient associations, is inscribed within the syntax of the body. You could say that this is key to the entire set of drawings, in so far as it suggests both horizon and road.
Flesh is an attempt to reground the whole series in the here and now – what is a slice of watermelon? It is evidence but I am aware of its sexual connotations and the fact that there is a connection between this cellular, cellulose relic and our bodies. The last drawing, Quarter, deals with geography and the relationship to territory or how you possess space that I think may be peculiarly American. One is aware, when one flies over America, the way the grid has been imposed on the surface. If the first drawing, Room, was about identifying in elevation the idea of the least possible space necessary for one man to occupy, Quarter deals more broadly with the way in which the human mind has chosen to articulate the surface of this planet, turning it into territory. And that has limitations.
ADC: Clearly, the drawings make manifest a whole catalogue of concerns that one considers when encountering your sculpture, yet in such a completely different physical form.
AG: Yes, I am very aware that the body is absent, but my ambition is that the drawings should describe the limits of a physical space which then can be used by the viewer to test conceptual limits of all sorts. The body of the viewer is in some ways the absent subject of the drawings. But I don’t want to impose my interpretation. It could be enough to say that the work is an attempt to orient the body in space.
ADC: And yet I might expect that a certain number of viewers in San Antonio will respond to the work from an entirely different perspective, will, in fact, see it as being extremely witty.
AG: I think the drawings are a serious kind of play, and I hope they will be enjoyed in that spirit too.
ADC: So, just for the record, what kind of hot sauce did you use?
AG: Well, it was a Louisiana sauce, but I can’t remember the brand name. I chose it entirely on the basis of color and bought out the supply at several stores. Now what was great, actually, about the sauce was that I had never before used a bottle…
ADC: As the implement?
AG: Yes, it was very ejaculatory the way you could shake it and it would spurt and make a trajectory though the air before it became paint and that was very nice. In the best of the figure work, Heat, which is an evolution of Source, it manifests as a meeting of two viscosities. But at the same time it is a bit like somebody seen through a heat haze, walking towards you or away from you. It is a bit like a spaghetti western, I guess…
ADC: Very cinematic…
AG: …A body walking towards you with a sun setting behind it, so that you are seeing it through the bent of light that moves through the heat curtains of Texas…
ADC: Good note to end on.