Acclaimed artist and sculptor, Sir Antony Gormley, has a special place in the hearts of those who live in the North East. The Angel of the North, now a familiar sight as you travel up the A1 celebrated its 24th birthday earlier this year. Whenever I have been ‘down south’ I am always welcomed home by two sights – the Angel and then the Tyne Bridge, entering Newcastle. It is this sense of welcome and inclusivity, very much present in the North East, and in our friendship with the whole of Europe, which make it especially poignant that the artist, Gormley, who feels very strongly about Brexit, has decided to become a German citizen.
The tragedy of Brexit
Gormley described the “tragedy” of Brexit, saying:
“I’m embarrassed about Brexit: it’s a practical disaster, a betrayal of my parents’ and grandparents’ sacrifice to make a Europe that was not going to be divided again. It’s a tragedy.”
He is very critical of the current government, and adds:
“Britain has fallen into the hands of self-seeking people who are not interested in public service but their personal careers, and that’s a shame.”
Gormley was speaking at the Museum Voorlinden near the Hague at the launch of a major retrospective of his work.
Benefits of Brexit?
The current government has referred to ‘Brexit benefits’ but it is difficult to see where they are. In the world of art and culture, things have become much more difficult post-Brexit. In this year’s Art Basel / UBS report on the global art, market figures show that from 2019 to 2020 there was a decline of one third in the value of imported art and antiques. Also European artists now have to pay a levy of 5% on artistic work brought into the country, something that did not exist before Brexit.
And this is just the beginning. This makes Gormley’s decision unsurprising and understandable.
For the last few years Gormley has been working on an art project that he sees as having the potential to be his greatest work yet. He plans to create a series of industrial iron figures on the French coast, looking towards Britain as the lost island of Europe, but one that shares much cultural heritage.
As Gormley said of the new project in 2019:
“I am very excited about this. After all, how do you understand yourself other than by your relations with your nearest neighbours?”