The NS Interview: Antony Gormley, artist

“You should definitely cut defence before you cut art”

Were you always going to be an artist?
No. It wasn't one of these things where at the age of three I knew that I was going to be a painter. Far from it. It was a slow realisation that I couldn't be anything else.

Did your upbringing have an influence?
I was educated by monks [at Ampleforth College] - I thank them dearly for the education they gave me, but I am no longer a Catholic. But, having been one, I have, in the words of William Blake, to make my own system or I will be enslaved by another man's. I think that's what I am doing - trying to construct my own system. It's a dangerous thing for an artist.

Do you see your art as having a purpose?
I used to think that the great thing about sculpture was that, like Stonehenge, it was something that stood against time in an adamantine way, and was an absolute mass in space. Now I try to use the language of architecture to redescribe the body as a place.

Why are you so drawn to the human body?
It's funny, I'm not that interested in it as a body: I'm interested in it as the place where we all live. It's the collective, subjective condition of a human being.

You often use your own body in your work.
It saves a lot of hassle. Why make another body when you've got one already? It releases you from the stranglehold that art has had placed
on it, more or less from the Renaissance, which is the making of the perfect copy.

Are you a victim of critical snobbery?
It is impossible to escape. If your work doesn't speak to people, it's beyond comprehension and risible, but if people engage with it you become tarred with the brush of populism.

Is connecting people with art important to you?
It's wonderful to see art in a museum, but it is institutionalised. I don't like the idea of the artwork as something that requires special conditions. I would like it to be universal.

So, the idea is that art belongs to everyone?
Each one of us is a creative, responsive individual. You can't push people into the position of being dumb, of being consumers of spectacle. For me, it's very important that art becomes commonly owned again.

Would you say this is a good time for art?
Oh, very. British art has come of age. We had always been apologetic. We aren't any more. There is a sense that the visual arts in Britain are setting the agenda for people all over the world. It's never happened before.

Has the art world become overly commercial?
I think that you could say markets follow energy. If there wasn't the energy, there wouldn't be anything to sell. But I think you can always tell when artists are more interested in money than they are in discovering and using their voice for its own sake.

Should art mix with politics?
Art and politics are inextricably linked, and art has always been an arena in which human freedom has been tested and extended. That's what my Fourth Plinth project was all about - a test site for human identity and for the demonstration of our liberties.

What do you make of the coming cuts to arts funding?
Disastrous. You should definitely cut defence before you cut art. Art is the way that an individual and a nation express their vitality. Without it, we might as well not be alive.

Should the arts receive special protection?
The idea that somehow art should be cut in the same way as everything is just completely and utterly indefensible. It is as if somehow we are having to be buried as well as being told that we are poor and starving.

Can philanthropy fill the gap?
That's wishful thinking. The American model, where national institutions and their boards are in some way influenced by the largest funders, is open to extreme abuse. I would never discourage philanthropy, but there is a huge difference between patronage and state funding. The state has a duty to be a good patron.

What do you think of the coalition so far?
I'm waiting.

Do you vote?
I certainly vote. I continued to vote for Labour in the last election.

Is there a plan?
There was a plan to try to be a good artist. And that's still the project.

Is there anything you would like to forget?
I deeply regret the loss of my eldest brother. I don't ever want to forget him, but I regret that he died.

Are we all doomed?
It's up to us.

Defining Moments

1950 Born in London
1971 Completes degree in archaeology, anthropology and art history at Trinity College, Cambridge
1977-79 Attends Slade School of Fine Art
1994 Wins Turner Prize with his terracotta sculpture series Field
1998 Made Officer of Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to sculpture
2010 Signs an open letter to Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, protesting at arts cuts

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, War on WikiLeaks

Show Hide image

The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis