© The Artist


Antony Gormley (1950 – )


193 X 162 X 100
Accession number


In St Petersburg in 1915, the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich (1878–1935) hung a white-bordered black square in the top corner of a gallery, where two walls met the ceiling. In a country with an Orthodox Christian heritage, this was the space usually reserved for an ikon of Christ, benevolently watching over the rooms of the devout; a commanding, visible position now reserved for CCTV cameras in art galleries. Gormley has referred to this piece, Black Square[1], throughout what he describes as a “dialogue”[2] with the Russian that includes Drawn (2000/2007), a set of eight cast iron figures bent at the hip into unnatural 90-degree angles so as to fill all of the corners of a rectangular room, top and bottom. When Jacky Klein suggested they might refer to yoga, Gormley replied “I think it has much more to do with crucifixion, pushing the body to conform to a given structure.” [3]

The body pushed into these bizarre positions is Gormley’s own. Eyeless, mouthless, and punctuated by the welded lines join iron to iron, the form has become a ubiquitous, instantly-recognisable brand. W. J. T. Mitchell was tempted to call the expanding horde “gormlems”:

“sculptural ‘clones’, identical copies of an absent original that may be infinitely multiplied.”[4]

Field, Gormley’s army of clay blob-people, perhaps knowingly riffs on this idea.

In examining Tracey Emin’s use of her own body, critics look to biographical elements relating to her sex life and provincial upbringing. For Gormley’s use of his, they look to an education in Sculpture at Goldsmiths and the Central School, in Anthropology & History of Art at Trinity, College Cambridge, and in Near and Middle Eastern culture whilst travelling and studying meditation. The “gormlem” may indeed approach something similar to the “common world-language of form” Henry Moore sought in the British Museum: a human common denominator across religions and cultures.

In A Corner for Kasimir form, it draws on the same ideas of physical and spiritual presence Malevich found in the image of crucifixion; the head lolls forward onto the chest as the arms spread, the legs join as if nailed. Fixed on the wooden beams of its British Council travel case, and wrapped in its protective paper headdress, the Corner looks especially like a Man of Sorrows.

These are external to the piece, however, and it is in fact this sense of interiority that dominates Gormley’s work.[5] As a teenager, he began a “dialogue” with E. H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art (1950), a book which can be seen as accounting for his interests in the history of art as an essentially human story, drawing on different cultural traditions. As part of a career spent responding to what he saw as the book’s central question – 'What is the adequate challenge to the life of an artist?' – Gormley was interviewed by Gombrich,[6] and outlined an even earlier source of this sense of iron-clad, inward space:

“There was a repeated sensation that I had as a child before sleep, which was that the space behind my eyes was incredibly tight, a tiny, dark matchbox, suffocating in its claustrophobic imprisonment. And slowly the space would expand and expand until it was enormous. In a way I feel that experience is still the basis of my work.”[7]

Tom Overton, 2010.

[1](1915; Moscow, Tret’yakov Gallery)
[2] ‘Field Activities: A Conversation Between Anthony Gormley, Ralph Rugoff and Jacky Klein’, Anthony Vidler, Susan Stewart & W. J. T. Mitchell, Anthony Gormley: Blind Light (London: Hayward, 2007), pp.40-59; p.51.
[3] Ibid.
[4] W. J. T. Mitchell, ‘Architecture as Sculpture as Drawing: Anthony Gormley’s Paragone’, Ibid, p.116.
[5] John Hutchinson, E. H. Gombrich & Lela B. Njatin, Anthony Gormley (London: Phaidon, 1995), p.10.
[6] Stuart Jeffries, 'He made looking at art an adventure', The Guardian, 6th November 2001.
[7] E.H. Gombrich in conversation with Anthony Gormley, in John Hutchinson, E. H. Gombrich & Lela B. Njatin, Anthony Gormley (London: Phaidon, 1995), pp.6-30; pp.10-11.