Antony Gormley: How Art Began

Documentary available below:

I watched this with my kids today, they’ve been working with clay and my daughter  enjoys history, especially social histories.

It has the usual premise, what Art can tell us about what it means to be human….

Gormley begins by visiting 14,000-16,000 year old cave drawings in France, he reminds the viewer that art is a kind of litmus test of values, Art shows us what we care about.

Hand stencil 02

He examined the ice age cave art and describes the work as the ‘trace of life’, the cave drawings express a trace of the body (specifically its absence in the hand stencils). That through painting, the body or life of the artist is present in the work; the breath was used to create the hand stencils (spit painting, as you’ll observe in the documentary).

Everyone's a stranger to me now lash detail low res

Everyone’s a stranger to me now. detail.

I note this as I can draw some parallels with my work, specifically the portraits and face prints in Everyone’s a stranger to me now. There is the trace of the body, the body is absent, yet it is still a form of self portrait. Gormley likened the hand prints as a trace of a moment in time, representing human time.

He asked what does this mean? What does this represent?

Being here. Now.

Of course, the image of the hand is quite different to that of the face and eyes, suggesting other meanings and associations, yet the engagement is perhaps the same; some women who saw the work, commented on looking for the face (their face?) in the portraits in I say a little prayer for you. Do we look for ourselves in the absent body, or place ourselves in the space?


It must be 2019, because at 20 mins, Gormley likens the work in the le Salon Noir, at Niaux, to that of Picasso, in line, energy and ego. Then confesses he doesn’t care for Picasso, ‘because he was predator’. That the imagery of the animals is from the point of view of a predator, viewed perhaps, he says, in the same way Picasso viewed women. Grateful he’s calling it as it is, our (Western) History of Art is informed by the work, and contaminated by the attitudes of violent and predatory men.

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