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On the edge of the impossible; Sculptor Anthony Caro

By Christopher Andreae / August 18, 1980

Anthony Caro's sculpture first received international attention and wide exposure in the 1960s. This London-born, London-based sculptor had broken away from the conventions of modeled or carved volumetric sculpture, and, using welded and painted steel parts, was making abstract sculpture of extraordinary freedom and inventiveness. One critic wrote that Caro had "altered the premise of sculpture. . . . His forms flow along the ground or rise on diagonals. . . ." Another claimed that he had altered "profoundly the history not just of sculpture but of abstraction." Arguing that Caro's "intense preoccupation" was with the "livedness of the body," michael Fried wrote: "In Caro's art the physicality of the body is itself liberated from the body's limits."

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In the early 50s Caro had been an assistant to Henry Moore. It was, however, the inspiration of the American sculptor David Smith, encountered on his first of many visits to the United States in 1959, that proved crucial to his development. A highly productive artist, Caro continues to make both large and small sculptures, continually breaking new ground on both sides of the Atlantic. His work has been exhibited extensively. At present there is an exhibit, sponsored by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, on the grounds of the Christian Science Center.

The following is an edited version of a discussion he had recently with Christopher Andreae at Mr. Caro's home in London.m

Your work has become almost exclusively associated with the material or welded steel -- but you tell me you have recently been making sculpture using clay and bronze. This has been kept rather secret, hasn't it?

The bronze sculptures I've kept under wraps because I hadn't got them right. But now I have and I'm going to show them in the autumn at the Acquavella Galleries in New york, on 79th Street.

How have you been using these materials?

I worked in Syracuse, New York, in a ceramic workshop. I was working for the first time in ceramicist's clay, which is not so oily as sculptor's clay; it was a different way of working -- an entirely new thing for me. I tried all sorts of things, among other things putting pots together; but it didn't seem to work. It looked too like a bastardized form of pottery. But then those pot-shapes werem suitable for casting in bronze as parts for sculptures. I had them sent over the London, cast them in bronze, cut some of them up and put them with flat sheets, some brass, some bronze; the sheets and the parts go into the same sculpture. I was trying to get a different sort of unit from the H-beam and the steel shapes I had used before in the steel sculptures.

Criticism of your work has been very articulate. I wonder if this has actually preceded your work in any way, or just stemmed from it. Mondrian said the theory comes afterwards, the work first.

Dissatisfaction, I think, comes first of all. You don't feel happy about what was done before, and that bothers you and you say, "I must change," and then you try to think of an intelligent way to go, a way that suits you. There are just two critics who have really helped me at that level, right in the studio, though never in terms of theory. They are Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. Greenberg has often pointed out possibilities or directions which you've never dreamed of. -- "The very thing in your studio you had taken for granted is the onem thing," he'd say -- "Why don't you pay attention to that?" And this suddenly sets your mind going a while new way. It's like talking to another artist whose mind is in tune with yours. It's intuitive with Clem. Michael Fried is also incredibly in touch and intelligent in the studio. And then, of course, you also worry a lot yourself. And Sheila, my wife, and I have always talked a lot about art in terms of what makes sense.

Do you have a feel that art is something which progresses, which actually develops?

My son came out with a rather good expression when he was seven He called it "the Onward of Art." I don't know about it progressing.m It's more a matter of art keeping on the move. It doesn't always go steadily onward, but it's up to artists to try to keep it alive.

It keeps alive through change?

No. It keeps alive through quality. Changes are forced on art, yes, because almost no art is so satisfying that you don't want to make another work of art.