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Portfolio > North East England 1 > Angel Of The North, Gateshead, UK                                          Click on an image below to reveal enlarged version

Angel Of The North, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, UK

The Angel of the North is a contemporary sculpture by Antony Gormley, located beside the A1 road in GatesheadTyne and Wear, England. Completed in 1998, it is the largest sculpture in Britain. The work faced considerable opposition during its design and construction phases, but is now widely recognised as an iconic example of public art and as a symbol of Gateshead and of the wider North East. In 2021, efforts by The Twentieth Century Society to obtain listed building status for the structure were unsuccessful. Gormley discussed the choice of an angel for the sculpture, suggesting that the image was multi-functional; as a reminder of the industrial history of the site, beneath which miners had worked for centuries; as a reference to the future, symbolising the transition from the industrial to the information age; and as a focus for human hopes and fears. The steel sculpture is 20 metres (66 ft) tall, with wings measuring 54 metres (177 ft) across. The wings are angled 3.5 degrees forward to create, according to Gormley, "a sense of embrace". The angel, like much of Gormley's other work, is based on a cast of his own body. It is Britain's largest sculpture. The sculpture stands on a hill at Low Eighton in Lamesley parish, overlooking the A1(M) and A167 roads and the East Coast Main Line rail route, south of the site of Team Colliery. Work began on the project in 1994. Gateshead Council secured funding of £800,000 - £584,000 from the Arts Council England, £150,000 from the European Regional Development Fund, £45,000 from Northern Arts, plus private sponsorship. The Angel was installed on 15 February 1998. Due to its exposed location, the sculpture was built to withstand winds of over 100 mph (160 km/h). Foundations containing 600 tonnes (590 long tons; 660 short tons) of concrete form the base of the statue, anchoring it to the rock 70 feet (21 m) below. The sculpture was built at Hartlepool Steel Fabrications Ltd using COR-TEN weather-resistant steel, and was constructed in three parts; the body weighing 100 tonnes (98 long tons; 110 short tons) and two wings each weighing 50 tonnes (49 long tons; 55 short tons). The components were transported in convoy, the body on a 48-wheel trailer, from their construction site in Hartlepool to the installation site 28 miles (45 km) away; the journey, undertaken at night, took five hours and attracted large crowds. The plaque beside the angel contains a quotation by Gormley: "The hill top site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark.... It is important to me that the Angel is rooted in the ground, the complete antithesis of what an angel is, floating about in the ether. It has an air of mystery. You make things because they cannot be said." 

Plans for the sculpture encountered significant opposition. Gormley himself has subsequently acknowledged being "snooty" towards the project; when originally approached by Gateshead Council, he scorned the opportunity, saying that he "did not make motorway art". Local newspapers ran campaigns against the proposed sculpture, in which local politicians joined. The Gateshead Post went as far as to draw comparisons between the Angel and a 1930s Nazi statue. Concerns were also expressed about the potential for traffic accidents resulting from the statue's proximity to the A1 dual carriageway, and for potential interference to television reception. Since its construction, the sculpture has continued to generate comment, and has been the focus of a number of publicity stunts. The Guardian claimed that the sculpture is known locally as the "Gateshead Flasher". In 2011 Gateshead Council refused Tourism Ireland permission to illuminate the Angel for Saint Patrick's Day. In 2014, a supermarket chain was compelled to apologise after projecting the image of a baguette onto the Angel, an act Gormley himself called "shocking and stupid". In 2021, concerns that the sculpture's setting would be detrimentally affected by a road-widening project, led The Twentieth Century Society to seek listed building status for the structure. The Society's application was turned down by Historic England, the body with responsibility for the National Heritage List for England, which stated that threats to a structure's setting did not form part of its criteria for listing.

 

Twenty years after its completion, the Angel is now considered to be a landmark for the North East. The Angel has been listed as an "Icon of England", and has been described as "one of the most talked about and recognisable pieces of public art ever produced. Martin Roberts, in his 2021 revised edition of County Durham for the Buildings of England series, writes of The Angel; “Of all Gateshead Council’s great projects, posed the greatest risk, yet delivered the greatest reward. Its erection captured the public imagination, its design won critical praise, and it gave both the town and the region a new symbol. 

 

Inspired by the Angel of the North, several similar projects have been proposed. The Angel of the South title has been given to the Willow Man, which sits to the side of the M5 in Somerset, while the White Horse at Ebbsfleet has been proposed for Ebbsfleet Valley in Kent. Gormley's earlier sculpture, Brick Man, proposed for the Holbeck area of Leeds, was never built.

 

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