Recently, I’ve felt moved to pen a few unreliable memories from my upbringing on Low Fell. The Gateshead borough which on its southern border, shared with Low Eighton and Birtley, resides one of the countries most iconic sculptures, the Angel of the North.
When I left my parent’s three bedroom semi-detached home on Dorchester Gardens in 1987 would’ve been only a twinkle in the designers eye. Like George Bailey’s guardian angel Clarence in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, Anthony Gormley’s steel creation was bereft of wings at that time…… And most probably a torso!
Unlike George Bailey, though, I wasn’t hamstrung in my attempts to spread my wings to follow my dreams……The clean ones anyway!!…… Relocating to a new lieu de residence in Bedfordshire – The base from where I’d commute into my London-based job for the next nine years, until my return to the place of my birth (Leeds, West Yorkshire) in 1996.
Depite no longer residing on Low Fell, I was obviously fully aware of the 1998 unveiling of the Angel through multiple media channels and the fact my wife’s parents Birtley home was about 400 yards south of the 66 ft tall structure. Gormley’s sculpture a regular topic of conversation between my spouse Karen and her mum during their phone calls in the final months of the 20th century.
I’ll be honest and admit on first witnessing the south-facing Angel I really wasn’t enamoured of its aesthetics. My misguided notion being a piece of art’s integrity and attraction be hastily judged on my untrained eye’s first impression.
Yours truly foolishly deeming art should be determined merely on looks. My naive and shallow critique not taking into account the bigger picture of the work. In particular it’s meaning to an area reeling from the recent demise of its coal mining and heavy engineering industries.
Despite looking weather-beaten, even on unveiling, I eventually appreciated the steel construction which stood proudly greeting visitors north bound on the A1. Ultimately thinking of it as a symbol of defiance towards the Thatcherite ideology; whose spiteful divide and conquer tactics, which started two decades earlier, rendered the north-east’s traditional industries impotent.
In my fanciful mind I no longer think of the Angel of the North as an aesthetically displeasing carbuncle. Now thinking of the sculpture as a symbol of defiance to the people who sought but failed to render downtrodden the local populous.
Lauding it over the first UK road to join the north-east with our London-based parliamentary leaders, when I see the Angel now I think of it as the last rusty piece of steel left in the area after the heavy industry genocide of the Tories under the fragrant Margaret Thatcher.
A sign that instead of lying down and dying, the people spiritedly crafted something symbolic from the remnants of the scraps leftover from once great industries which’d underpinned the area’s economy for generations. A sculpture representing the areas working class and heavy industrial DNA.
Those notions no doubt far removed from those of Anthony Gormley’s while he was loving designing and crafting the work of art. However, my epiphany’s mixture of recaltricance and romance is how I now like to interpret the vast steel structure, a construction which on its unveiling I loathed.
When I first saw the Angel of the North, I deemed it ugly. Opining it resembled an aircraft that had been planted tail first into the Low Eighton hill where it’s resided since 1998. As alluded to above, though, that’s an opinion I gladly grew out of on understanding creativity and art bore far greater depth than my hastily formed first impression critiques.
As an ex-cricketer, one thing that still slightly troubles me when witnessing the Angel is it’s similarities to an umpires signal of ‘Wide’. A gesture that back in the day sporadically accompanied my less directionally accurate deliveries of a cricket ball.