Great Britain 1924 – 2013
Duccio variations no.7 2000 Materials & Technique: sculptures, sandstone and steel
Anthony Caro, one of the great modernist sculptors, died in London on 23 October 2013 at the age of 89. Caro’s exploration of the relationship between space, form and materials continued throughout his distinguished career. He was one of the first artists in the mid-twentieth century to reject the plinth, bringing sculpture into a more direct dialogue with the viewer: ‘I think my big break in 1960 was challenging the pedestal, killing statuary, bringing sculptures into our own lived-in space’. Caro trained in the classical tradition at the Royal Academy, but it was his experiences after study that shaped his future direction. Between 1951 and 1953 he worked as assistant to Henry Moore and in 1959 travelled to America where he was introduced to artists David Smith and Kenneth Noland, and critic Clement Greenberg. Under their influence Caro abandoned figuration and began to create large abstract sculptures.
One of these, Duccio variations no 7, is currently on display in the NAB Sculpture Gallery. A monumental work in sandstone and steel, the sculpture was made in association with the exhibition Encounters: new art from old, staged by the National Gallery London in 2000. For this show, contemporary artists were asked to respond to pieces from the National Gallery’s collection; Caro’s sculpture is one of seven he created after Duccio di Buoninsegna’s The Annunciation 1311. The painting shows the angel messenger appearing to the Virgin under a portico and Caro’s work echoes these architectural features, investigating illusionary space as did di Buoninsegna in the early Renaissance.
As well as sculpture in industrial materials, Caro employed the more subtle medium of paper pulp with Ken Tyler at Tyler Graphics Ltd. In 1982 Caro worked with Tyler to create a series of 124 unique paper works, and in 1993 the pair collaborated on a further series of 35. The artist enjoyed experimenting with paper pulp, remarking:
In the paper sculptures I get closer to the graphic idea, to painting ideas and away from being so sculptural. At Ken Tyler’s I was doing all these things, using intaglio lines, using shading, and trying all sorts of possibilities—and with some in three dimensions. We would take a piece of wet paper and I would draw on it, Ken would drape it over chairs and things and then the next day, when it was dry, would pin it to the wall.
By manipulating sheets of Tyler’s handmade paper while still damp, Caro created soft, undulating curves, which he embellished with intaglio printing processes, drawing and painting. In #4 Big white,from the series produced in 1982, Caro created a three-dimensional object of richly textured handmade paper that harnesses a range of techniques: a concertinaed centre is flanked by velvety rolls marked with simple pencil lines to create a sense of flowing movement; these are juxtaposed with angular pieces of folded paper flecked with grass green paint, and edged in bright red or dark chalk. The paper pieces are delicate explorations of the unexpected sculptural possibilities of paper that blur the boundaries between printmaking, painting, drawing and sculpture.
#4 Big white represents a unique moment in Caro’s oeuvre and complements other sculptural pieces from the paper pulp series held in the Gallery’s Kenneth Tyler Printmaking Collection. The generous donation of this work by Penelope Seidler AM was formalised just weeks before Caro’s death and this bittersweet coincidence gives pause to reflect on the life and work of this visionary artist.
Emilie Owens Acting Curator, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books
in artonview, issue 79, Spring 2014