Monday, 3 November 2014

Someone to watch over me

Above: the ancient arts, at Hargreaves Foundry. Photo Claire Griffiths.

Phil has been working with Blackpool Arts for Health on pieces for the new mental health facility The Harbour, which is being built on the edge of Blackpool. Over the next few days, we will post some excerpts from Phil's Blackpool blogs from this summer and autumn. A complete set of the blogs and photos is at the Blackpool Arts for Health blogsite.

Phil writes:

Seeing molten metal being cast is both wondrous and terrifying, like visiting a caged volcano. It's become a rare vision in this country, so a chance to observe traditional casting is a gift, even if it's a slightly scary one.

Today we visited the Hargreaves Foundry in Halifax where cast iron artefacts have been made since the 19th Century - and where Anthony Gormley's sculptures are constructed in this 21st Century. Walking around the foundry on a research trip with the Smart Arts group and our guides Andy Knight and Richard Hall was an amazement. M commented, in his languid way, "This may be the coolest thing I have ever seen." Except of course it's hot: molten metal like poured light, showering sparks (A saw them as dying fairies) heat shattered moulds, sand burnt at temperatures so high that it becomes crude glass. 

Aside from the eye-catching fireworks there's something deeper at work. G put his finger on it best I think: "It's almost religious, the feeling in here, going back to the ancient rituals. The mould is made and then broken. The sand is burnt away like old habits, the old life, old patterns. Then we cast the new."

The word 'cast' can mean many things. Many of our Smartarts group are recovering from difficult times and their art-making is about casting off the old skin and allowing renewal. We cast a spell, cast dice, cast runes, cast plaster, cast aside, fore-cast the future. There is a well-known kinship between making things in metal and casting ancient magic, which is among other things a sort of wish fulfilment. Art is also a form of making wishes come true. O picked up this thread: "What would I create? Happiness? What would that be? A smile, a touch, a feeling, who knows? A longing for the past, my past? A chance to start again. How far back would I have to go to start again? Perhaps as far as birth, a newborn."

Art is often dismissed as an add-on to life, as opposed to the important things like money, career and efficiency. Actually, art-making predates all of those activities and I often wonder if that makes it higher up the scale of priorities than we realise. The necessities of life were invented first.

For all its ancient associations, Hargreaves foundry isn't a museum, it is a thriving contemporary producer with a world-class reputation. Because the standard of making is so high, it attracts artists with very specialist requirements as well as corporate clients. The most notable artist customer is Gormley, who has worked with Hargreaves for a couple of decades. The site is dotted with Gormley pieces in various stages of completion. Over it all, hanging from the ceiling of the storage warehouse is a Gormley-size version (i.e. 6 foot 2 inches) of his iconic Angel of the North. A big chunk of rust-colour iron, it looks tough, yet gentle. A totem and a guardian.

Above: Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North, man-sized, at Hargreaves Foundry

O again: "Scrap is melted into liquid, it has power, energy you can feel. It's poured into a cauldron where it bubbles, the smell of sulphur in the air, Hubble bubble. It's held in a ladle, like golden sun... It does become, of course, hard as iron and cold, yet the coldness doesn't detract from its beauty and tenderness... the feeling an angel watches on. I have a thought - it'd be nice if  somewhere, somehow an angel watches over all of us."

Photographs of the Smartarts visit to Hargreaves Foundry in Halifax can be seen at the Blackpool Arts for Health blogsite (the photos were taken by Claire Griffiths). We would particularly like to thank Richard and Andy at the foundry for their kindness, hospitality and hard hats. For more information about Hargreaves, go to

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