The Angel of the North, sculptor Antony Gormley's gift to the people of Gateshead, is standing. For Gormley, it is the end of four years' work. Photographer Glynn Griffiths followed the final months of preparation
Antony Gormley really does not have much to complain about over the reception for his Angel of the North. Whatever the musings of the London critics - and most of those who bothered to go and look were converted - the people who will have to live with the rust-coloured figure looming over their homes seem to have accepted the Angel as one of their own; a steel Geordie of fabulous size and strength but whose wings arouse a twinge of pity. With the span, as we were repeatedly told, of a jumbo jet, they are both a marvel and a curse; like flight itself, liberating and yet containing the potential for inflicting great destruction.

What has annoyed Gormley is to hear the Angel described as brash and meaningless or as a piece of Nazi monumentalism. "It is extremely hurtful ... The form is not invented. It is discovered. At the core of the Angel is half an hour of my life that was captured in plaster." A key stage in the four-year evolution of the figure now overlooking the A1 near Gateshead was the 1:10 scale model Gormley made from a plaster mould of himself. That is how he works. Gormley believes it is "silly" to try to invent natural bodies when he inhabits one of his own. "One of the things that gratifies me about the Angel is that it does have this extreme alertness. The body form is extremely highly tuned and you can sense it," he says. The torso certainly attracted a string of favourable comments from women in the carnival crowd as the Angel was assembled on his hill brow site earlier this month. It would have been churlish to point out that the "lovely bum" might have been tucked in a bit by the sculptor's file as he honed the version to be turned into 200-tonne reality by consulting engineers Ove Arup & Partners and Hartlepool Steel Fabrications.

Close co-operation was needed to accommodate the vision of the artist and the insistence of the engineers that the Angel should be able to withstand the twisting forces of winds in excess of 100mph. Together they evolved the "exo-skeleton" of steel ribbing running down the length of the figure. "The way these ribs concentrate at the top of the head, the neck and the ankles is one of the things that gave me most pleasure," says Gormley. If the statue has a spiritual brother, he thinks it might be an Easter Island head. There is a sensed connection between human life where the Angel is rooted - surrounded by the scars of old industry, rolling edge-of-town fields, and mixed housing and flats - and a potential other life. Stephen Goodwin