The Liverpool sculptor whose artwork commemorating the Hillsborough tragedy sparked a furore in the city has hit back at critics, claiming his work has been widely misrepresented.
Tony Evans, a sculptor from Liverpool, was commissioned by Liverpool City Council to create a statue to mark the 21st anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in April 2010. The statue features a 15ft fence with two figures attempting to rescue a supporter.
However, his work has received negative feedback from the public this week, who described it as “graphic” and “grotesque” following the leaking of pictures to the press. In a poll conducted on the Liverpool Echo website, two-thirds of voters described the statue as “inappropriate”.
Tony Evans believes he has been treated unfairly. He said: “It’s a complicated 3D structure and it’s easy to sit and criticise it from your armchair. What people don’t realise is that the Town Hall had input all the way through the project. They are integral to the whole thing, they initiated it and now they are backing off.
“A lot of people have been very emotional over this sculpture in a positive way and people from the justice campaign were hugging me and giving lots of positive feedback initially, but as always, the negative press is designed to create antagonism.”
In a letter written in October on behalf of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Chairman Margaret Aspinall said: “The statue, which is 15-foot high, is not intended to elicit sympathy, but to tell the story of a tragic event which unfortunately is part of Liverpool life and which brought, and continues to bring, Liverpool people together and those touched by this from further afield.”
Forum members at Liverpool fan site Red and White Kop were unhappy with the proposed statue. Comments left included:
• “I think a new sculpture would be a great idea but this is too graphic. Something more subtle would be just as symbolic.”
• “I’m not sure I’d like to be passing it on the way into the ground every other week.”
• “The sculpture is hard to look at, I’m all for a sculpture as long as it’s tasteful and symbolic... but this is not.”
One alternative idea suggested is to leave 96 empty seats at the club’s proposed new stadium, one for each life lost at the Hillsborough disaster.
Mr Evans described his work as he said it should be viewed, as a visual artwork rather than in a photograph, and said: “The work features three figures. One of which is inside the fencing used to symbolise the fans enclosure. The other is on the outside, on top of the fence helping to rescue the fan being handed to him by the first figure. The bars are mirrored to reflect images of onlookers, giving the illusion that they are in the crowd. There are 96 individual tributes on the sculpture where fans and families can wrap scarves as a mark of respect.”
Tony Evans’ agent, Stephen Turner, of Turner Fine Arts, said: “Tony believes he is being used as a scapegoat over the whole thing. Liverpool City Council had a lot more input into the project than is being made out. It wasn’t Tony’s initial idea. Everyone now seems to be backing away and leaving Tony in the front line and I think it’s unfair really. It is a very strong image and I can see why people are against it but as a piece of sculpture, I think it’s fantastic.”
A spokesperson for the Town Hall said: “It’s not the City Council that’s responsible for the artwork. We play a more facilitating role in terms of the commissioning of the artist out of the Lord Mayor’s fund. Former Lord Mayor Steve Rotheram commissioned the artist whilst he was in power and he was very close to the Hillsborough Family Support Group. He wanted a more permanent memorial for the event. There is no suggestion that the sculpture is definite and could be amended or replaced entirely. We are looking for people’s views.”
By Joe Tedford
The statue has been criticised for being too graphic; the existing memorial at Anfield; Hillsborough stadium