I’d been toying with thoughts of my Shirecliffe Hub and spoke being a kind of Wicker Man (geddit?) and so while checking the various interpretations of the Colossus of Rhodes and more modern interpretations like the Angel Of The North. Today I came across an item on the BBC website about the unbuilt Brick Man devised by a then unknown Anthony Gormley back in 1988.
Two decades have passed since Leeds was arguing about making a national impact by creating a giant brick man towering over Holbeck. The figure by, the then little-known, Antony Gormley was planned to be around 120 feet tall, his design for the brick man won a competition between 20 artists. The brick man was never built. The sculpture would have been around half the height of the Town Hall (for a long time Leeds’s tallest building). For a more recent comparison the newly-built Bridgewater Place is around three times the planned height of the statue. Would Leeds have loved the man? If completed brick man would have been the largest sculpture in the UK at the time, and expected to cost £600,000 in 1988. The plan was for the man to be hollow inside, with a ground-floor entrance in one heel and two tiny windows in the ears, the public would be able to enter the foot to contemplate the scale of the interior.
However, public and political opposition combined with planning wrangles meant that the scheme was eventually scrapped. Opposition to the scheme included a vote conducted through the Yorkshire Evening Post (a phone poll revealed 800 people for the figure but more than 2,000 against it). The then Leeds City Council leader, Coun George Mudie said of the anti voters “Their common sense contrasts sharply with the airy-fairy views of celebrities who don’t live within 100 miles of the city.” in the cash-strapped 1980s (sound familiar?) it was felt money could be spent better elsewhere. And Leeds was a very different place back then.
Speaking to BBC Radio Leeds in 2009 George Mudie is un-repentant.
“People needed the help and I thought at the time it was a luxury and the wrong priority for the times.”In the 80s we had Thatcher, we had industries, engineering, clothing, all disappearing.
Those were the priorities. The brick man didn’t fit with the priorities.In the 90s we might have had enough resources to take a different decision.”In 1988 Conservative Councillor Richard Hughes-Rowlands said: “If Mr Gormley is talking about it (brick man) going somewhere else, my eyes won’t exactly be weeping tears.
“Ten years later it did – another Gormley creation, Gateshead’s Angel of the North finally towered over the A1.In the 21st century it is perhaps seen as a missed opportunity, maybe the city of Leeds was too timid, or money too tight. Since the brick man decision some large-scale public art projects elsewhere have become much appreciated.
You can still see a maquette (or model) of the brick man, made by Gormley in 1986, on display in Leeds City art gallery. The brick man was cast from life with the artist being covered in plaster.The maquette is featured in the entrance of Leeds City Art Gallery and features as one of the gallery’s top 10 exhibits. It still draws many curious, or regretful, glances.
The Maquette is pictured on AG’s website . We can only wonder at how this would have turned out.