The UK's First Permanent Offshore Sculpture Is Coming To Northumberland

By Rose Shillito | 18 April 2007
photo showing two figures on a platform rising above waves

Artist's impression of how the sculpture will look, rising from the waters of Newbiggin Bay.

A groundbeaking, newly commissioned sculpture which will rise out of the waters of Newbiggin Bay, Northumberland, as part of a major coastal defence project, promises to thrust this once popular seaside village into the global arts spotlight and put it firmly back on the tourist map.

The sculpture, the first permanent offshore artwork in the UK, is entitled Couple and features two 5-metre-tall bronze figures of a man and woman looking wistfully out to sea.

The project is the joint effort of Inspire (South East Northumberland Public Art & Design Initiative) and Wansbeck District Council, with the backing of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and represents the culmination of three years’ work by sculptor Sean Henry.

photo of man on metal steps working on giant sculpture of woman

Sculptor Sean Henry works on one the woman figure of the 5-metre-tall bronzes. © Mark Pinder

Couple will symbolise the financial and cultural regeneration that Newbiggin-by-the-Sea will experience as a result of the £10m breakwater programme, which will see a 200-metre long breakwater structure constructed 350 metres out into the bay. This will form the foundation for the sculpture and its steel pier.

“Couple signifies the serious cultural and economic investment being made into Newbiggin-by-the-Sea,” said Wendy Scott, Public Art & Design Officer for Inspire.

“These are exciting times for the people of Northumberland, as we intend to develop a strong cultural, economical and environmental nucleus from which we can build an essential framework for the future of our region."

photo of sculpture on man's head resting on workshop floor

Here, the bronze head on the floor shows the monumental scale of the sculpture, Couple. © Mark Pinder

The breakwater scheme, believed to be the first of its kind along the North East coastline, will not only strengthen coastal defences but will also re-create Newbiggin Bay’s beach – which in its heyday attracted thousands of visitors and day-trippers. Once the breakwater structure and sculpture are in place, the beach will be created with thousands of tonnes of sand imported from the Lincolnshire coast.

Mr Bob Stephenson, Chief Executive of Wansbeck Council, said the Newbiggin Bay project continues the regeneration of the village, which has benefited from more than £30m of investment over the past three years.

“It will not only improve vital coast protection defences but also seafront amenities particularly through the ‘importation’ of 500,000 tonnes of sand dredged from off the Lincolnshire coastline near Skegness,” said Mr Stephenson.

He added: “The commissioning of the Couple artwork will also add another unique dimension to the scheme and I have no doubt that it will become a tourist attraction in itself.”

photo of sculptor working on thighs of giant bronze sculpture

Sean Henry working on part of the sculpture of the male figure. © Mark Pinder

Not only is the eagerly awaited artwork likely to be a hit with tourists, it also looks set to make a big splash in the art world.

“This spectacular setting will provide a unique context for Henry’s work, creating a wonderful platform for what, in spite of its size, is an intimate sculpture which speaks to all of us,” said Peter Osborne, Director of Osborne Samuel Gallery in London. “Couple will be accepted and appreciated as a key element in the visual statement made by the new breakwater.”

People won’t have to wait long to meet Newbiggin’s newest residents, Couple will be launched in July 2007.