Angel of North artist for Derry return

The bronze sculpture outside Derry's Millennium Forum. 2106JM13
The bronze sculpture outside Derry's Millennium Forum. 2106JM13

Internationally renowned sculptor Antony Gormley may recreate one of his early works which was attacked and burned in Derry in 1987.

Gormley, who is famous for his ‘Angel of the North’ and his ‘One and other’ human form sculptures in England, is currently studying plans to recreate his ‘Sculpture for Derry Walls’.

‘Sculpture for Derry Walls’ (1987), saw the artist working in Derry, the birthplace of his grandfather, as part of the UK wide TSWA 3D project. The three resulting sculptures were placed at three points on the city walls - the East Wall, by the remains of the Walker Monument and the Bastion overlooking the Fountain estate. Each sculpture was made up of two identical cast-iron figures joined back to back. They hold a cruciform pose and were placed in such a way that one faced into the walled city and the other looked outwards.

In simple terms it can be said that the sculptures represented Derry’s two dominant religious communities, turning away from each other but paradoxically joined as one figure. As the artist saw it they were separated by their religious, cultural and political difference but united in their Christianity and their shared existence as part of the human race. One of these sculptures was given a permanent home on the East Wall outside the Millennium Forum in 2001.

Gormley recalls some difficulty in placing a statue at the Bastion overlooking the Fountain in 1987, stating it was a “fairly hairy” business.

“It was right in the middle of the Troubles. We were surrounded by a sullen group of Protestant kids.

“They were throwing stones and sticks and then spitting on the sculpture. The sculpture came over the top dripping with saliva, the missiles kept coming,” he said.

“Red melted plastic was running like blood over the totally black charred head. This was excellent. This was the work as poultice.

“We had big props to keep it vertical while the concrete it was set in went off overnight. They set the bonfire around it. The final act was throwing a tyre around its neck and then pouring petrol on it. Then throwing the petrol can onto the fire.”

The artist believes the art work was fulfilling its purpose.

“There was this splendid vision the next day of this totemic object that had really been made into a fetish . . . Red melted plastic was running like blood over the totally black charred head. This was excellent. This was the work as poultice throwing violence and evil onto itself that would otherwise be experienced in other ways.”

To Gormley, the fact that his work immediately provoked such a strong reaction was proof it was working. “The sculpture from Derry walls was not my first attempt, but my first successful realisation.

“I guess you can say that this was my baptism. I realised that art could have a social purpose and it could engage with real issues and real communities.”

The Londoner’s best-known work is the Angel of the North, a sculpture which towers over Gateshead.