24 October 2013
[Via the Telegraph]
Sir Anthony Caro was Britain’s greatest sculptor…
Caro made his name during the 1960s with the invention of a new kind of abstract sculptural technique involving the use of steel parts, welded together then painted in bright colours. His use of colour enabled him to amplify mood in his work, and suggested a freedom and lightness not easily achievable with industrial steel. It also helped him to establish his own artistic persona against that of Moore, for whom Caro had worked as an assistant during the early 1950s and for whom the idea of “truth to materials” had been all-important.
To many young sculptors it seemed that Caro had liberated their art from the weight of past association, and many took his pronouncement that “sculpture can be anything” rather too literally. But Caro himself never truly believed his own dictum; he clung tenaciously to a belief in the language of three-dimensional form — often comparing the process of sculpture to musical composition. All his sculptures depend on an intuitive sense of balance and placement, and on the harmonious relationship between one part and another.
One of his most audacious experiments was the development in the 1990s of what he called “sculptitecture” — large sculptures, reminiscent of sophisticated playground follies, that incorporated architectural elements such as ramps, steps or towers. Caro got the idea for this new genre at a summer workshop in America in 1987 where he and the architect Frank Gehry had discussed the idea of exploring the relationship between their two disciplines.
But he was not simply a fine sculptor; he was also that rarest of breeds, the successful artist who could also teach superbly. From the 1950s to the 1970s, when he taught at St Martin’s School of Art, he inspired a new generation of contemporary artists and sculptors including Philip King, William Tucker, Richard Long, Barry Flanagan, Gilbert and George, Richard Deacon and many more.
Some followed his example and methods. Others reacted strongly, challenging his ideas head on. “It’s no good teaching what you know,” Caro said on one occasion. “You have to teach and encourage your students to do what you don’t know or feel comfortable with. If you teach properly then you discover things. Students ask the difficult questions and you have to think to find a proper answer to them.”
He remained something of a professional iconoclast. In 1990 he weighed into the debate about Canova’s The Three Graces (which the Victoria and Albert Museum was attempting – successfully as it turned out – to save from being exported to America). “In my view Canova is one of the first of those decorative sculptors whose sentimental ladies in white marble brought such discredit on the art of sculpture,” Caro observed. He steadfastly refused to join the Royal Academy (“too complacent, not enough good art… summer shows a disgrace”) and claimed to have accepted a knighthood only “so that Sheila could deservedly be called a Lady”.
Yet he accumulated accolades from the artistic Establishment, becoming in 1998 the first contemporary sculptor invited to hold a one-man show at the National Gallery; by the end of his life his work was held by more than 175 public collections.
He continued to work into old age, in 1999 beginning a nine-year project to restore and install new sculptures in a church in northern France destroyed during the Second World War. His spirituality seemed rooted more in his art than in his Jewish family upbringing. “Is art so different from religion?” he asked. “It feeds the spirit, and through it you also try to find this inner part of yourself.”
Anthony Caro was the subject of a host of awards and honorary positions. He was a member of the Council of the Royal College of Art from 1981 to 1983, and of the council of the Slade School of art from 1982. He was also a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1982 to 1989.
He was created CBE in 1969, knighted in 1987 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 2000 (the first sculptor to be so honoured since Henry Moore).
He and his wife had two sons.