Antony Gormley's 'Two States' on display in the Terrace Gallery at Harewood House, Leeds

PUBLISHED: 00:17 14 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:17 20 February 2013

David Lascelles, 8th Earl of Harewood, his wife Diana and Antony Gormley Photograph: Yorkshire Post Newspapers

David Lascelles, 8th Earl of Harewood, his wife Diana and Antony Gormley Photograph: Yorkshire Post Newspapers

Sculptor Antony Gormley's latest work is on display at Harewood House, Leeds. Jo Haywood joins him and the 8th Earl for tea on the terrace

The Finding Adam exhibition at Harewood House has now closed.

He might work primarily in heavy metal, but Antony Gormley has a light touch when it comes to self-approbation.

His latest pieces, a duo of life-size metal figures under the title Two States, are currently on display in the Terrace Gallery at Harewood House. This is quite a coup for the Leeds estate, but the artist himself is disarmingly humble about the partnership.

When Diana (wife of the 8th Earl of Harewood) told me about the gallery, about its distinctive stone floor and four columns, I knew the work would be a perfect fit, he said. The context of the room is ideal. I only hope people arent disappointed when they turn up and see my two lumps of rusty iron cluttering up the place.

The two lumps in question are actually smelt and cast iron interpretations of human forms using the architectural language of blocks, which Antony refers to as pixelated cubism. But why are they being premiered at Harewood and not at a prestigious London gallery?

The answer comes in the contentious guise of Sir Jacob Epstein, whose realistic, rough-hewn sculptures scandalised early 20th century London but who later came to be acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of Modern British Art.

Harewood held a major exhibition last year in his honour, focusing on Adam, an Epstein masterpiece that resides in the upstairs hall. It was a runaway success, but Diana and David Lascelles, who took on the mantle of Lord Harewood in July after the death of his father, were left with the problem of how to top it.

Our exhibition, Finding Adam, was an important part of our story, about how Lord Harewood rehabilitated Epsteins reputation, said Diana. We wanted to continue that story, that fascinating narrative, but we didnt know how.

I knew Antony had a special relationship with Epstein and greatly admired him, but I also knew he was very busy. In the end, I just plucked up the courage and asked him. Luckily, he saw the possibilities straight away.

Elemental by Epstein was a complete game-changer for Antony when he saw it as part of an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1981. Up until then his work had been largely to do with nature and stones. The power of the body came as a complete revelation to him.

Its a huge privilege for my work to be under the same roof, to be in close proximity to such a great work (Adam), one of the greatest of the 20th century, he said.

Antonys work takes him all around the world, but he has made frequent visits to Yorkshire in recent years, to Harewood, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, The Hepworth and the Henry Moore Studio at Dean Clough, Halifax.

Where else could you go to an old carpet factory and see major works of contemporary art? he said. The experience here in Yorkshire clearly shows that you can build new audiences if the art is good enough and if it is presented with confidence.

David is quick to agree: There have always been good collections dotted around the county and interesting things going on, but now we are going through the important process of joining up the dots, and its already paying dividends.

Its been a big year for Yorkshire and sculpture, and it feels good to be a part of that. The county is now the place to come to see contemporary sculpture few places in Europe have collections to rival those on display here. And while we might not have the quantity here at Harewood, we do have the quality.

Antony could be forgiven for taking a rather more negative view of Yorkshires love affair with sculpture as it was Leeds City Council that famously rejected his Brick Man, a 30-metre high figure to greet travellers at the railway station, in 1988. Interestingly, the original small-scale maquette of the sculpture has since become one of the most popular pieces at the citys art gallery.

Leeds has changed a lot since then, he said, with admirable sanguinity. The council might make a different decision now or might not. People are wonderfully unpredictable.

The future of Two States, his dynamic duo of sculptures that now enjoy an enviable view across the terrace at the back of Harewood House and the rolling hills beyond, is also unpredictable. They were not commissioned specifically by the estate, so will move on when the exhibitions ends.

Places make objects, said Antony. These pieces were definitely helped by the fact that they knew where they were going. Theres a real symbiosis between the house and the work. But as to where they are going next who knows.

Well, said Lord Harewood, with a wry smile. We were actually hoping youd forget all about them so we can keep them here.

Carving a career

Antony Gormley was born in 1950, the youngest of seven children who spent their early days in Dewsbury Moor, West Yorkshire.

He attended Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire before reading archaeology, anthropology and the history of art at Trinity College, Cambridge.

He travelled to India and Sri Lanka in the early Seventies to learn about Buddhism, then took up a place at Central Saint Martins College and Goldsmiths in London.

He completed his studies with a postgraduate course in sculpture at the Slade School of Art from 1977 to 1979.

In a career spanning almost 40 years, Gormley has specialised in sculpture that explores the relationship between the human body and the space it occupies, most notably in large-scale installations like the Angel of the North, Another Place and Domain Field.

His work has been widely exhibited throughout the world with solo shows at, among others, Tate and White Cube here in the UK and at museums and galleries in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Beijing, Mexico, Austria and the US.

Gormley was awarded the Turner Prize in 1994; an OBE in 1997; the South Bank Prize for Visual Art in 1999; and the Bernhard Heiliger Award for Sculpture in 2007. He is also an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a Royal Academician since 2003 and a trustee of the British Museum since 2007.

The print version of this article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Yorkshire Life

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