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Anthony Caro. Perhaps Britain’s Greatest Living Sculptor.

May 29, 2008

My penchant for quite a few British sculptors has little or nothing to do with the fact that I was born in London – nor am I much of an Anglophile – it’s because some of the sculptors I have included in this blog so far are great artists who just happen to be from the British Isles. Anthony Caro being no exception as he is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest living sculptors.

He was born in 1924 in New Malden in Surrey, England; was educated at Charterhouse School and at Christ’s College, Cambridge where he earned an engineering degree. He served in the British Navy for a while after which time he entered the Regent Street Polytechnic to study sculpture. After a year there he left to attend the Royal Academy Schools and stayed until 1952.

Earlier in the 1950’s, while working for Henry Moore, Caro found Modernism, but the period of training with Moore influenced his work throughout the 50’s. Moore’s impact was revealed not only in Caro’s intense interest in the nature and inherent properties of the various materials with which he worked but also in his retention of the human form cast in bronze.

In the 1960’s after being introduced to the metal sculpture of American sculptor, David Smith, Caro began welding and bolting together prefabricated pieces of steel; these initial pieces were brightly painted. At this time he gave up working in a figurative style.

Early One Morning, 1962. Tate Collection, London.

Sir Anthony Caro Early One Morning 1962

‘Early One Morning’ is a major example of the kind of sculpture – light, airy and open-form – which Caro had begun to develop by 1962. In this work, Caro’s arrangement of planes and lines along a horizontal axis gave greater freedom in creating different rhythms and configurations. The work has no fixed visual identity and no single focus of interest. Rather, it unfolds and expands into the spectator’s space, its appearance changing with the viewpoint. The individual elements are unified by the bright red colour and Caro sees the way they cohere, making a sculptural whole, as being like the relationship of notes within a piece of music.

Midday, 1964. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In the mid 60’s, Caro’s work then took several directions. He began to simplify his compositions, often following a single directional line and using a variety of new shapes and materials, ranging from steel cylinders to metal mesh. But he simultaneously concerned himself with smaller, exquisitely refined pieces, adjusted to a more intimate space. These smaller works, executed in 1966 and 1968, are of polished and painted steel; they often have a boxlike support or pedestal not only to raise them to a more comfortable viewing height but to serve as a fulcrum for the compositions. Caro also continued to experiment with a vast repertoire of materials and to explore the full spectrum of scale relationships that made him one of the most formative influences on the younger generation of British sculptors.

Black Cover Flat, 1974. Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Black Cover Flat (1974), steel, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

He is often credited with the significant innovation of removing the sculpture from its plinth, although Smith and Brancusi had both previously taken steps in the same direction. Caro’s sculptures are usually self supporting and sit directly on the floor. In doing so they remove a barrier between the work and the viewer, who is invited to approach and interact with the sculpture from all sides.

Emma Dipper, 1977. Tate Collection, London.

Sir Anthony Caro Emma Dipper 1977

Emma Lake in Saskatoon, Canada, was the site of a workshop where Caro made fifteen sculptures in August 1977. Since the relative inaccessibility of the location made it difficult to transport heavy materials, he used steel tubing and beams. These lighter materials reflected his concern at the time with non-monumental sculpture. Caro’s work was becoming increasingly linear, enclosing space in cage-like constructions. The opening to the left creates the sense of an internal space, which is penetrated and activated by the tubes and rods.

The Soldier’s Tale, 1983. Tate Collection, London.

Sir Anthony Caro The Soldier's Tale 1983

During the early 1980s Caro began using massive buoys, chain links and other scrap from marine dockyards. In The Soldier’s Tale, he has cut and arranged sheets of steel to produce a framing device, and inserted a large cup-like form. The juxtaposition of flat plane and enclosed space creates a sense of opening, like a mouth singing. The title refers to a piece of music by Igor Stravinsky. Caro has suggested that just as musical notes are combined into a melody or sonata, so his individual components cohere in a sculptural whole.

Odalisque, 1984. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Caro’s career continued unabated well into the 1990s. In 1993 Caro returned to creating semi-figurative sculptures for the first time since the 1950s. These were clay figures made in combination with metal and wood; the subject of this series, which consisted of more than 40 pieces, was the Trojan War. At the same time, Caro continued to produce massive abstract steel sculptures, many of which are essentially architectural in nature. In 1996, his work Goodwood Steps was called Great Britain’s largest work of sculpture. Located on the Sussex landscape, it was a series of massive forms marching across the countryside in a pattern that recalled the giant standing stones at Stonehenge.

Caro’s Dream City, 1996. Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

In 2005 the Tate Gallery in London organized a retrospective to mark Caro’s 80th birthday. This major retrospective surveys over fifty years of his work and is arranged chronologically. Beginning with his figurative work of the 1950s, it surveys his subsequent engagement with abstract form and space during the 1960s and 1970s. It continues with Caro’s exploration of the dialogue between sculpture and architecture from the 1980s onwards, combined in his recent work with a renewed involvement with the human figure.

Eastern, 2007

Sir Anthony Caro OM | Eastern

Caro was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honors of 1987. He has also received honorary degrees from universities and art schools in Britain and around the world.

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