'Stallion of the south' to greet travellers

A monumental sculpture of a white stallion looming 50-metres high was yesterday picked to be one of the first sights to greet Eurostar passengers as they travel into London from mainland Europe.

Mark Wallinger's giant sculpture, which has been described as the "Stallion of the south" and is set to overshadow Antony Gormley's 20-metre Angel of the North in Gateshead, will be erected in Kent on the site of a former chalk pit.

At 33 times life-size, and costing £2m, it will be the country's most ambitious piece of public art, and when constructed will overlook Ebbsfleet Valley as well as the international train station and adjacent A2 road. The sculpture is expected to be seen by up to 60 million people a year.

Yesterday, Wallinger, a Turner prize winner, revealed that the commission was one in a succession of recent equestrian triumphs for him. In a lucky coincidence, his racehorse, Riveria Red finally won a race, the 2.40pm at Lingfield, after years of performing badly. Wallinger had been too busy to place a bet, but said the the £2,500 prize pot will come as some consolation.

He said he will begin work on the concrete sculpture as soon as planning permission is granted by Gravesham Council, expected to be sometime next year. "It's probably going to be built with reinforced concrete and cement, as this is the area where the cement industries started.

"I've chosen the symbol of a horse because of the area's history. It's very close to a Roman Road. In Roman times horses were the most ubiquitous animals, going up and down the road. This road was seen as a gateway in and out of the country," he said.

Just over half of the £2m in funds needed to create the sculpture has already been raised, and Wallinger said he is confident the rest will be found, despite the economic climate.

Stephen Jordan, chair of the Ebbsfleet Landmark Board, which is overseeing the project, said public art has an important role in building a sustainable community in the Ebbsfleet Valley. Some 10,000 new homes, offices and shops are planned for the area over the next 20 years.

This is not the first time Wallinger has used an equestrian motif in his art. He famously used a real horse as part of an installation nominated for the Turner prize in 1995, called A Real Work of Art.

Wallinger, who won the Turner in 2007 for State Britain, a re-creation of Brian Haw's Parliament Square protest against UK military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, beat four other artists to win the new £2 million commission – including Rachel Whiteread.

His horse was the most popular entry in a competition which included an abstract geometric structure of interconnecting polyhedrons by sculptor Richard Deacon, and a "signal tower" of stacked cubes with a laser beam passing through it by Daniel Buren, a French artist. The five shortlisted designs went on public display at the Bluewater shopping centre near Dartford last summer.

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