Five Noteworthy Sculptures by Anthony Caro
Aug 13, 2018
When he died in 2013, Anthony Caro was considered the most influential British sculptor of his generation. His influence stemmed from both his work, and from his teaching. Two days a week from 1953 through 1981 he taught at St Martin's School of Art in London. While there, one of his primary innovations was to combine sculpture and drawing classes, altering the focus of the lessons from copying subjects to “understanding them.” That same perspective also defined his work as an artist. Early on, he copied his sculptures from life. He molded his early works or carved them from stone, and he set them atop pedestals in the traditional way. But then in 1960, he abruptly changed to making non-figurative, abstract sculptures out of metal, and sat them directly on the floor. Rather than perceiving that these works were separated from their environment, viewers felt connected to the work and could even walk around it and behold the changes in its appearance as they moved. His goal of understanding, and then expressing, the abstract essence of his subjects also led him to the conclusion that he should use found objects and materials in his work. These, he felt, are the things of modern daily life. The intrinsic meaning they contain speaks volumes to modern viewers. His evolution as an artist made Caro was a perfect bridge between artists like Marcel Duchamp, who first assembled readymade objects from everyday life into sculptures, and contemporary artists like Jessica Stockholder, who expand that concept into the creation of large-scale perceptual experiences that redefine human relationships with space. The legacy Caro left behind is one of tireless invention, and here are five of his most noteworthy pieces:
Woman Waking Up (1955)
Caro learned to sculpt from nature while studying at the Royal Academy in London. He was taught to directly copy the sculptures of Greek, Roman and Etruscan artists. After graduating, he moved from London to Hertfordshire where he infamously cold-called Henry Moore, the great Modernist, biomorphic sculptor and asked for a position as his studio assistant. Moore refused him, but told him to come back in six months. Caro did, and was given a job. Yet despite his respect for Moore, Caro struggled with both his academic training and the influence Moore had on him. When Caro received his first solo exhibition in 1956, those dual influences are fully apparent, especially in the most buzzed about sculpture in the show: “Woman Waking Up” (1955). The pose of the woman undeniably resembles that of the reclining female forms Moore sculpted, while the heroic physical and emotional properties of the work evoke many a classical reference.
Twenty Four Hours (1960)
Despite his inner struggle to find an original voice, the figurative sculptures Caro was making were well received by the public. One was exhibited at the 1958 Venice Biennale, and another won the sculpture prize at the 1959 Paris Biennale. The notoriety, however, also brought him into contact with influential abstract artists from the United States, such as Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, and Robert Motherwell. His interaction with them fed his own instinctive drive towards abstraction, and encouraged him to have the confidence to make a dramatic change in his style. His new approach first manifested in 1960 with “Twenty Four Hours.” The success of this piece drove him to radically revamp his teaching curriculum, putting him on the forefront of the British academic avant-garde.
Early One Morning (1962)
In 1963, Whitechapel Gallery in London held a solo exhibition of fifteen abstract sculptures by Caro, the exhibition that rocketed him to international acclaim. To many viewers, the interior space of the gallery looked as though construction was underway—metal forms seemingly strewn about awaiting an outer shell. Prominently amongst the other forms sat a large, luminous, red assemblage of steel and aluminum titled “Early One Morning” (1962). Shapes, lines, and angles met to create this indefinable form: clearly the result of intellectual decisions; choices, not accidents. Every perspective from which the piece is viewed offers new possibilities. This is not a support for another structure, but rather a support for an esoteric journey, the point of which is simply to look, and dream.
Yellow Swing (1965)
When Caro first travelled to America in 1959, one of the most influential connections he made was with the sculptor David Smith, an Abstract Expressionist who was already working with welded metal at the time. Smith and Caro became both friends and competitors. Caro created the sculpture “Yellow Swing” (1965) the year Smith died in a car accident. The multivalent properties of the piece allow for seemingly endless visual interpretations as the viewer moves around it. Empty space is incorporated into the composition, and at times exerts perceptual authority over the solid materials. Its vivid use of color expresses the desire Caro once spoke of that somehow he and his contemporaries could be seen as the inheritors of the spirit of Impressionism—the keepers of revolutionary experimental attitude.
Emma Dipper (1977)
In 1977, Caro found himself in a pinch when he realized that from the remote studio in Saskatchewan, Canada, where he had come to work temporarily he could not access his usual materials. He thus adapted his practice to incorporate the type of thin metal that was used locally for agricultural applications. “Emma Dipper” (1977) was the first sculpture he made from this material. It is named for Emma Lake, where his studio was located. The piece has been described as humble, since it de-emphasizes the sculpture itself. The thin metal lines take a backseat to the shapes they form out of the empty spaces within and around the work. The sculpture is like the epitome of the Taoist riddle that a container is only an empty form, yet it is the emptiness within that we find useful.
Featured image: Sir Anthony Caro - Emma Dipper, 1977. 2130 x 1700 x 3200 mm. Painted steel Collection. Courtesy of Barford Sculptures Ltd
All images used for illustrative purposes only
By Phillip Barcio