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Tony Cragg. Another Great British Sculptor.

March 10, 2009

You may have noticed that I have a penchant for British sculptors, but not to the exclusion of those born elsewhere. The first introduction to what was to become my favorite British “group,” was through the book, “A Quiet Revolution: British Sculpture Since 1965,” by Mary Jane Jacob. I purchased it years ago – being a curious sculptor myself – always eager to read about other artist’s careers, their use of materials, their backgrounds and philosophies, and it’s there I first learned of Richard Deacon, Richard Long, Bill Woodrow, David Nash, Barry Flanagan and Tony Cragg.

Tony Cragg was born in 1949 in Liverpool; following a period of work as a laboratory technician he first studied art in the foundation course at the Gloucestershire College of Art and Design, Cheltenham and then at the Wimbledon School of Art 1969-1973. During this period he was taught by Roger Ackling, who introduced him to the sculptors Richard Long and Bill Woodrow. He completed his studies at Royal College of Art 1973-1977 where he was a contemporary of Richard Wentworth. He left Britain in 1977 and moved to Wuppertal in Germany, where he has lived and worked since. Cragg also has a studio on the island Tjörn on the Swedish west coast. The Nordic Watercolour Museum at Tjörn had a Tony Cragg exhibition in 2007. Wikipedia.

From Tate Gallery London:

Stack, 1975 Mixed Media. Unconfirmed 2000 x 2000 x 2000 mm

Tony Cragg Stack 1975

Tony Cragg sees physical matter as the fundamental basis of experience. Many of his works consist of numerous components, methodically arranged to reveal the superficial relationship we have with the vast array of things which surround us.

To make this work Cragg arranged miscellaneous objects and materials, collected at random, into a solid, geometric structure. The layering suggests geological strata, showing how both natural and fabricated elements are incorporated into landscapes shaped over time by mankind. Stack demonstrates Cragg’s interest in humanity’s impact on nature through industry, science and technology, as well as the evolution of both organic and man-made landscapes.

New stones – Newton’s tones, 1978.
















BBC – BBC Four – Audio Interviews – Tony Cragg: New Stone Newton’s Tones (1978) consisted of plastic fragments arranged on the floor in a rectangle and grouped according to their position in Newton’s spectrum of colours. Continuing to use plastic discards from streets and construction sites in his sculptures, Cragg’s use of the material is seen as part of his search for a new metaphor in sculpture, suggesting, for instance, that urban waste is to the urban environment what fallen leaves and other natural detritus are to ‘wild’ nature.

Minster, 1987 different metals, 5 parts. height 560 cm


From BBC – BBC Four – Audio Interviews – Tony Cragg:

In the 1980s, Cragg began to make sculptures suggestive of architectural works, such as his Minster (1987). Made of rubber, stone, wood and metal, this is indicative of a city or built-up environment. Some of his works from this period resemble Norwegian houses, others look like steel constructions of the Albert Dock in his home town of Liverpool. Others again are gigantic versions of laboratory equipment, such as Condensor (1989). In 1988, Cragg won the Turner Prize and also represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.

In the next decade and later, Cragg continued to display semi-scientific vessels, such as Bromide Figure (1992), but also made organic, biomorphic forms. In these works, Cragg examines the relation between the natural and the artificial world. In Trilobites, for example, he combines the 3-lobed body of a paleozoic fossil with a vessel from a laboratory. These “thought models” are visual forms reflecting intangible ideas stimulated by the material presences around him. These may not have a direct likeness to particular objects, but express their own existence and draw the audience into their orbit.

From The Cass Sculpture Foundation – Biography | 21ST CENTURY BRITISH SCULPTURE:

Trilobites, 1989

Sometimes pictures are puzzled together. For example, Darwin’s theories and a mass of geological studies have together led to visualisations of trilobite-infested primeval seas and vast tropical forests, dinosaurs, mammoths, and last but not least, man.’

From Artforum, March 1988:

In Trilobites Tony Cragg has taken two motifs, that of the three-lobed body of a marine fossil of Palaeozoic times and a vessel from the laboratory. Neither reference is strange in his work, but the unseen notions that pull this piece together and make it appear as it does are many and varied. Cragg uses a plethora of materials and references for his sculpture, reduced here to a pair of simple primordial forms, but with a wider message. In their original state, trilobites may be around 4 cm in length; here we see them as if under the microscope. They have been enlarged, all the better for you to see the form and understand it. But Cragg’s sculpture is not straightforward, there is also an underlying threat of unease. The laboratory vessels, set into the surfaces, spoil the simple enlargement, as if a horrible disease has infested the simple creatures. Might it therefore be possible to find here a metaphor for evolution in several ways? The natural, the engineered, or the accidental?

Whichever way we allow our thoughts to wander around the issues addressed in this sculpture, and the possibilities it offers, it is perhaps essential to remember that Cragg is not dogmatic, but is helping us to see more, more clearly.


Pillars of Salt, 1998 Bronze. 5m height.

From The Cass Sculpture Foundation – Biography | 21ST CENTURY BRITISH SCULPTURE:

Pillars of Salt, made especially for Sculpture at Goodwood (England) emerged from the ideas Cragg worked on at Dean Clough. As much as Trilobites 1989, which graced Goodwood during its first three years, Pillars of Salt speaks of evolution and of change – this time of change in mineral growth and change through time. These versions of laboratory vessels, placed in linear vertical formation, are disguised by their proximity; stacked and conjoined, they become something new.

The clustering of different forms, which by their association tell a new story, is familiar territory in Cragg’s working practice. The move forward with Pillars of Salt is the formality with which the separate elements are brought together – no random virus this, but steady, geometric growth. The bronze surface is raw, left just as it emerged on cooling from the sand mould. Surface veins where the heat cracked the damp sand can be seen clearly, as can burnt parts where the molten metal reacted with the sand. The metal has been left to patinate itself through time, much as the plasters at Dean Clough were allowed to develop their salt patina when this series began.

From The Cass Sculpture Foundation – Biography | 21ST CENTURY BRITISH SCULPTURE:

Ferryman, 2001 Bronze. 390 x 190 x 120 cm

Ferryman’s large mutant-like organic form achieves a specific weightlessness as a result of the perforated bronze from which it is fabricated. Its monumental size is contradicted and yet amplified by the hole-punched bronze which lends an extraordinary three dimensionality to the work.

The piece is almost foetal in character; it possess a strange kind of incompleteness as a result of its stunted appendages, which grow from the ‘body’ of the piece, hinting towards the potential for continued development. The ambiguous title of the work serves to further abstract Ferryman making it one of Cragg’s most inscrutable works to date.

From The Cass Sculpture Foundation – Biography | 21ST CENTURY BRITISH SCULPTURE:

Here Today Gone Tomorrow, 2001 Stone. 450 x 120 x 120 cm

Tony Cragg | Here Today Gone Tomorrow

Much of Cragg’s recent work has experimented with the manipulation of the human face, the use of stacking and layering and the effects of centring his architectural pieces, such as Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, around variable axes. This piece is, characteristically, animated and infused with a sense of movement and pace, a fleetingness stressed by the work’s title. Whilst the piece appears to be spinning at speed, it also seems to have been subject to wind and water erosion as a result of its smooth, undulating and topographical form.

From The Cass Sculpture Foundation – Biography | 21ST CENTURY BRITISH SCULPTURE:

Sinbad, 2003 Bronze. 160 x 310 x 170 cm

Tony Cragg | Sinbad

Sinbad combines many features of Cragg’s recent work. Whilst the piece incorporates Cragg’s propensity to layer and slice, the ’rounds’ from which it is comprised are also seperated by apertures which lend a lightness to this otherwise lumpen form through the use of negative space.

Sinuous, cylindrical and cleaved into segments, Sinbad is reminiscent of an engine part imbuing the piece with a distinctly functional and industrial quality. As with many of Cragg’s bronzes, Sinbad has been treated with a matte paint finish giving the piece a patina akin the surface of cast iron.

From Tony Cragg on Artnet and Buchmann Galerie Berlin – Lugano:

Declination, 2005 Bronze. h: 240 x w: 231 x d: 360 cm

Tony Cragg, Declination

According to Malmö Konsthall:

Tony Cragg’s sculptures can largely be organised into groups according to the different materials from which they are made: stone, clay, bronze, glass, different synthetic materials like polystyrene, carbon- or glass-fibre. His sensitivity to different materials is and has been the starting point for his work. To a great extent, his choice of material has determined the form, which a sculpture has taken on. Different materials give different emotional experiences, both for the artist and for us as observers. Tony Cragg points out that the words material and materia originate from the Latin word mater mother. Like a mother, the material gives birth to the thought; the different properties of a material give rise to the idea, which produces the form.

From Tony Cragg on Artnet and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac:

Skulpturenedition zu Cauldron, 2008. Bronze patinated green, h: 56 x w: 51 x d: 51 cm

Tony Cragg, Skulpturenedition zu Cauldron

His honors include several major museum exhibitions, mostly in Europe, and representation of Great Britain during the 43rd Biennale di Venezia and the Turner Prize, both in 1988. In contrast to some of the more recent recipients of that prize, Cragg is willing to stick to his formal rhetoric as he describes his work as “a relationship with materials and things in the physical world without using preconceived notions of an already occupied language.” While his forms do not neglect content, his main concern is how they function in space, with a vocabulary of their own, rather than through a meaning that is superimposed upon them. Read more from this article in The Brooklyn Rail by Robert C. Morgan, reviewing a show at Marian Goodman Gallery in June, 2007.

Since 1977, he has taught at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, where he became a professor in 1988.

Visit Tony Cragg’s website: Anthony Cragg

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2009 8:23 am

    “For the artist communication with nature remains the most essential condition. The artist is human; himself nature; part of nature within natural space.” Paul Klee (1879-1940)

  2. Rick permalink
    September 10, 2011 7:28 pm

    Looks like a fifth graders work. Just because some alcoholic nut job can put together trash and carve odd shapes does not mean he is an artist. The rich and arrogant of the world try to find sense out of things that make no sense. It makes them feel more elite. I find more enjoyment in watching a bird fly, a caterpillar crawl, and a lion roar.

  3. Rick permalink
    September 10, 2011 7:29 pm

    That sums it up.

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