Summary of Anthony Caro
Anthony Caro is widely considered the most important British sculptor since Henry Moore, a pioneer who took the older artist's characteristic figurative abstraction one step further, creating wholly abstract works which didn't bear obvious resemblance to any other objects. These works asked fundamental questions about the nature of sculpture as an artform: what it could be made out of; what, if anything, it had to look like; and how it might position itself in relation to the space of the gallery. Many of Caro's works seem to disintegrate and reform in front of the eye as the viewer walks round them, performing subtle commentaries on the boundaries between artistic and non-artistic space; or frame the gaps and surfaces around and in-between the works as of equal importance to the work itself. As a teacher, he influenced a whole generation of younger British sculptors, and though his critical and commercial success led some to view him as an institutional figure - an example to be kicked against - his works continue to excite and provoke by their genuinely radical formal innovations.
- Caro's work enacts the movement from figurative to non-figurative abstraction which characterizes British sculpture of the 1950s-60s. Influenced primarily by American abstract artists of the same generation, Caro abandoned the anthropomorphic motifs of his early work in favor of dynamic, expressionistic assemblages of steel and other materials. His breakthrough 1963 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition represented a turning point in British sculpture, suggesting the possibilities opened up to sculptural form once its 'representational' function had been entirely eliminated.
- One of Caro's most innovative technical maneuvers was to integrate the spaces and surfaces around the sculpture into the work itself: removing his works from the plinth, he placed them directly on the gallery floor, or, as in the case of his Table Pieces, suspended them from the edges of flat surfaces. This encouraged a more interactive relationship with the work, encouraging viewers to approach them closely and to inspect them from every angle, interacting with them more as environmental features than privileged adornments to the gallery space.
- During the last few decades of his life, Caro began to work on a range of projects which blurred the boundaries between artistic and architectural design: what he called "sculpitecture". These pieces generally suggested - and, in the case of his iconic Millenium Bridge, literally performed - practical functions. This element of Caro's practice led him to collaborate with prestigious architects and engineers such as Norman Foster, and ensured the cultural ubiquity of his work. Any visitor to London who has crossed the Thames from St. Pauls Cathedral to the Tate Modern Gallery, for example, has walked over an Anthony Caro artwork, mostoften without even realizing it.
Biography of Anthony Caro
Antony Caro was born in New Malden in South-West London, the youngest of three siblings born to parents Alfred and Mary. He was sent to Charterhouse, a private school in Surrey, where one of his housemasters introduced him to the sculptor Charles Wheeler, a future president of the Royal Academy who would tutor Caro during the school holidays. In 1942, Caro started an engineering degree at Christ's College, Cambridge, but he still felt the pull of Wheeler's influence, and continued to study sculpture with him at Farnham Art School in Surrey during his vacations. After graduating from Cambridge, Caro joined the Royal Navy, serving for two years in the Fleet Air Arm.
Important Art by Anthony Caro
Anthony Caro's early sculptures differ greatly from the abstract works which he began to construct from welded steel from the early 1960s onwards, and for which he would become famous. Having served as Henry Moore's studio-assistant since around 1951, Caro's first pieces suggest the stimulus provided by the older artist's practice, but also Caro's attempt to wrest free from Moore's influence. Woman Waking Up is similar to Moore's work in its abstract anthropomorphic form, but eschews his direct carving technique in favor of the more old-fashioned process of modelling in clay.
Woman Waking Up was made by dropping soft clay from a height, creating an amorphous mass which was then manipulated into a figurative shape (based on the traditional sculptural form of the reclining nude). Utilizing a significant element of chance in the composition process, Caro created a work whose pitted and rough surface contrasted deliberately with the characteristically smooth patina of Moore's works in bronze and stone.
The critic Jorella Andrews argues that this work represents "a quest to try and find new parameters for sculpture, to push it as far as it could go, using relentless experimentation at a material and compositional level. Indeed, in their unformedness, these figurative works have themselves often been described as full of yearning: the body as experienced from the inside, striving to break out of its confines, to find definition and release." However, various aspects of the piece, including the broadly representative form, and the use of a base for the sculpture, indicate the scope of developments still to come in terms of the abstract character of Caro's work.
Twenty Four Hours is often described as Caro's first truly abstract sculpture, one which breaks away entirely from the conventions of figurative representation. As a student, and while working for Henry Moore, Caro had produced experimental works which nonetheless remained within the bounds of figurative modelling. But following his trip to the USA in 1959, he completely redefined his practice.
That redefinition is evident partly from Caro's construction process. Rather than modelling or carving, Caro created this work by industrial welding, a technique which would become something of a signature style. He also disposed of the plinth, placing the sculpture directly on the floor, thus situating it emphatically in the 'real world', and in the physical and sensory space of the viewer. Such gestures represent a conspicuous rejection of the inherited conventions of both classical and modern sculpture. The circular form behind the central trapezoid shape, meanwhile, might imply an affinity with the American painter Kenneth Noland, whose work Caro had encountered in the US, and which often features concentric rings. Any element of conscious homage seems unlikely, however, as the piece was created through an instinctive process of experiment and chance-based discovery. Caro latter recalling thinking to himself: "[t]hat sculpture is right, it's the way I want it. I'm into something I don't know about and I'm going to keep going and see where I get to."
Almost all subsequent developments in Caro's practice can be traced back to the formative gesture represented by Twenty Four Hours, and many of the individual figural forms and motifs found in the work would reappear across the remainder of Caro's career. This is also seen as a vital work in the history of British sculpture, defining a post-war aesthetic of pure abstraction of which Caro was the primary exponent.
Early One Morning is seen as one of Caro's boldest and most sophisticated works. Painted in bright red, and constructed from disparate-seeming steel components, it confounds the viewer's expectations in subtle but profound ways. It has something of the haphazard quality of an assemblage, but is granted a sense of homogeneity and harmony by the uniform color.
Early One Morning can be primarily seen as an exploration of spatiality, and as an interrogation of the formal parameters of different artistic media. Caro makes the unprecedented move of arranging his sculptural elements along a horizontal plane: viewed head-on, they thus seem concentrated into an almost pictorial form, with the metal square at the back serving as a canvas (Caro himself noted that "although for this piece, a work by Alexander Calder was my initial suggestion, my source was invariably painting rather than sculpture.") As soon as the viewer begins to walk around the piece, however, that pictorial harmony is exploded, and the work seems to expand in space, with new angles and elements appearing and disappearing at every step. This refusal to privilege a single, 'ideal' viewing perspective represents a radical rejection of sculptural convention, and suggests the inability of artistic form to capture physical reality. A significant and related aspect of the viewing process is the time taken to walk around the piece (it is over 20 feet long) which adds a temporal dimension, and grants the sculpture something of the time-bound quality of music. Indeed, Caro later described Early One Morning as "like a song, moving along in time. In this sculpture the parts are separated, so as to open out and extend the sculpture."
The art historian Rosalind Krauss has argued that "[i]n a picture, every dimension of real space must be collapsed onto a flattened, vertically oriented plane; and in Early One Morning Caro constructs a model of this experience of a world compressed into the uprightness of painting." In another sense, however, this experience of the work as a picture is confounded by its simultaneous presence as a brute physical object. Krauss goes on: "[t]he achievement of Early One Morning is not only that it provides these two possibilities but that it shows them to be mutually incompatible." It is also a piece which stands at the forefront of developments in abstract sculpture globally across the late-20th century, being comparable in both color and compositional material, for example, to many subsequent works by Mark di Suvero.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Anthony Caro
- Anthony CaroBy Toby Glanville / 2014
- Caro: Close UpOur PickBy Julius Bryant and Martina Droth
- Anthony Caro: Interior and ExteriorBy Karen Wilkin
- Anthony Caro: A Life in SculptureOur PickBy Nicholas Wroe / The Guardian / March 16, 2012
- Anthony Caro: The Shaping of a RadicalBy Rachel Spence / The Financial Times / July 24, 2015
- The Prolific Career of Anthony Caro: Britain's Greatest Abstract SculptorBy Ellen Von Weigand / The Culture Trip / December 12, 2015
- What Anthony Caro Learned from Henry MoorePhaidon / July 30, 2014