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Antony Gormley exhibition launches drawing project at Newcastle's Hatton Gallery

A region-wide programme of exhibitions and events about drawing began at Newcastle's Hatton Gallery

Most people, certainly in the North East, will associate Antony Gormley with grand artistic statements.

In 1998 the massive Angel of the North – commissioned by Gateshead Council, fabricated in Hartlepool – spread its wings over Eighton Banks and the southern approach to Tyneside.

Five years later came Domain Field at Baltic, when 287 local people volunteered their bodies to be transformed, after a factory process involving cling film and quick-drying plaster, into a gallery full of shimmering stick people.

But Antony Gormley makes drawings too.

They are the substance of Space Stations, his new exhibition which he was promoting at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, this week, taking the opportunity to explain why drawing is important and underrated.

The message was timely. Space Stations is one of the opening exhibitions of a regionwide programme of events and activities designed to celebrate drawing and consider its role in art and design, science, technology and everyday life.

Antony Gormley, Space Stations exhibition at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University. 'Speculations: Making Thinking Drawing', runs alongside with a selection of artists which include Richard Talbot, Richard Hamilton, Catrin Huber, Eduardo Paolozzi, John Bowers and Richard Wilson.

Its title is a question – drawing? Funded by Arts Council England, it involves a host of North East venues and is a collaboration between The Customs House at South Shields, Middlesbrough’s mima art gallery and the universities of Sunderland, Newcastle, Northumbria and Teesside.

It is being jointly led and curated by Mike Collier of Sunderland University and Esen Kaya, of The Customs House, and the aim is to establish it as a major event in the region every two years.

drawing? already has a powerful friend in Gormley, whose 17 drawings, in sequences dating from 2002 and 2012, are on display at the Hatton until August 8.

“Drawings are the way that people who make things think,” explained the Turner Prize-winning artist.

“They’re thinking out loud but not with words, with marks. I think of these as an attempt to inhabit the kind of spaces that I’m thinking about for my work.”

Since The Angel of the North, he said, he had increasingly come to regard the body architecturally – “in terms of cells or rooms or passages”.

He had adopted the architect’s tool of axonometric projection, “where they use a diagonal or an oblique view of space in order to think about its outside and its inside”.

He had become intrigued by an apparent paradox – that in using a process which you might imagine would result in something becoming “uber-defined”, it actually became liberated.

Antony Gormley, Space Stations exhibition at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University
Antony Gormley, Space Stations exhibition at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University

“You’re not sure whether it’s above ground or below ground, whether it’s rooted in space or lost in space. I find that paradox really interesting.”

On display are grid-like drawings and more rounded, squiggle-like drawings resembling loose coils of something. In every case you can imagine and sometimes almost see a figure within.

Of the squiggle-like drawings (not sure Gormley would approve of that description) in a series called Field, dating from the time of Domain Field, he said: “This is about taking a line for a walk.

“This is almost one brush dip’s worth but I’m alert and aware that here, at the tip of the brush, this thing arises.

“You could say: on the one hand I’m in control; on the other I’m witness to a kind of a rising of a possibility.”

Asked if these playful drawings – “like a form of diagnostic dowsing” – were artworks in their own right or by products of a process, he said: “All art is part of a working process.

“It is the by product of an attempt to think by making. Drawing is at one end of that spectrum and finished sculptures that require 200 tonnes of steel and a lot of engineering are at the other.

“I don’t underestimate the importance or power of drawing. It is a way of thinking out loud but also of investigating the implications of something, either that you have made or that you might want to make.”

In his view it was “utterly essential... the seedbed, the fertile ground out of which all the things I do come.

Richard Talbot within the 'Speculations: Making Thinking Drawing' exhibition
Richard Talbot within the 'Speculations: Making Thinking Drawing' exhibition

“I personally feel that drawing is undervalued. We value reading and writing. We value the ability to articulate in speech but actually drawing is another form of articulation and we can all do it.

“Why is it that when you give a six-year-old a crayon and a piece of paper they’re just away? They draw as a natural part of their hand-eye-brain coordination. Then, at a certain age, they start to say, ‘I can’t draw’.

“It’s rubbish. If you can speak and you can walk, you can draw. I just think drawing is a fundamental, key part of being human and I’m really worried about this government’s attempt to turn us all into, as it were, productive machines in the great monetarist, capital idea of value. Drawing as a form of giving value to your own thoughts and feelings about being in the world is under-valued.

“Look, the fact is that everyone can draw and everyone should draw.”

Also on display at the Hatton are drawings by Tyneside-based Richard Talbot, head of fine art at Newcastle University and an art college contemporary of Gormley’s (both attended Goldsmiths, University of London), and works from the Hatton’s and other collections.

Among artists whose influence has outlived them are Richard Hamilton, one-time Newcastle University lecturer and a founding father of pop art, and pioneering computer artist Darrell Viner, inventor of a drawing machine.

Their work can be seen here and there is also an elaborate pen-and-ink drawing from Tyne & Wear Archives showing the William Armstrong-designed hydraulic winding and pumping engine for an Allenheads lead mine, dating from 1848.

A website for all drawing? exhibitions and activities is taking shape at www.drawingNE.org.uk

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