Caro was my friend and Mentor and this is a great loss for me. Our lives intertwined, and he was the first sculptor I actually ever met. I remember walking up the staircase at St Martin’s in 1957 because I was hoping to go to an art school, having already done two years on my own without even meeting another artist, and enquired into where the London art schools were at Foyles bookstore and they told me there was one next door. I was lucky that he was in that day.
Ever since then he has been a beacon and a standard to go by for me and many others. One cannot think of the development of British sculpture since the second half of the 20th century without seeing his work as the trunk where other branches could grow from even if in some cases by negative reaction. At a dinner given by the Gagosian Gallery to celebrate his recent show Tony was in good form, and I can carry that memory of him there being honoured by close to 100 people. The affection and admiration that people had for him was palpable.
On the evening of the 23rd October my wife telephoned Sheila Caro as Tony had asked us to lunch the following day since we were going abroad. She heard that Tony had just died.
There have been, and there will be, many accounts of Tony’s achievements and standing as a sculptor; his contributions to the entire history of modernism and the place of his sculpture within it. For these reasons, and as a consequence of the lunch that will never be, I would prefer to dwell on Caro the man, the human being, rather than on Caro the artist, Caro the great British sculptor.
Having known Tony for sixty years, first as a seventeen year old whippersnapper of a student, and later as friend, adviser and critic, I can find only one word which truly sums up the man and his attitudes to life and to work: generosity. Tony was that rare individual, one who would selflessly share with others his own excitements, observations and conclusions, be they on life in general, his own work and philosophy, or in his teaching and the passing on of advice.
All who knew Tony, or even only briefly met him, would ascertain to his immense joie de vivre, enthusiasms, and ability to involve others in sharing his immediate reactions and feelings concerning any particular subject of the moment, be it a work of art, music, literature, or merely the current affairs of the time. He was a modest man, never ostentatious, and despite his immense success, never conceited or overbearing. He had that gift of making one feel that his whole attention was focused on you in any exchange of views or social conversation. This gift, of course, made him an ideal teacher, and there are many, many sculptors and others around the world who owe much of their reputation and personal standing to the direct influence of, and encouragement by, Caro.
Despite the seriousness of mind with which he held the facts and practices of sculpture, its history and the effort to build its future, he was a man with a great sense of humour, who loved a joke, and was an inveterate gossip. He liked people; they were important to him and, without a doubt, his ‘humanism’ infected his work whether or not it had recognisable associations or references. He was happiest in the company of other artists, he had lifelong friendships with many of them; he went out of his way to follow what they did and he organized many social gatherings which brought them together. He was competitive; of course he was competitive! but that never dimmed his respect for those he admired, nor allowed it to interfere with his judgments of their worth.
A small personal example of his open heartedness will suffice to illustrate his personal warmth; when I was poor and hungry in Paris, which he was briefly visiting; he, before departing, bought a great big toy dog for our baby daughter and then took us out to dinner. As a final gesture he then emptied out his pockets of all the change he had left. This warmth, this ability to make others warm to him, whether they be artist colleagues, teaching colleagues, critics, curators or just men and women of the world with whom he came in contact, will surely be the abiding memory that will remain, for all who knew him, of Caro the man.
Tim Scott, November 2013
My first brush with Tony Caro, perhaps significantly, was not a personal encounter but with a heap of orange girders in Battersea Park in early 1963. I was an art student at Croydon and had recently discovered myself as a wood carver heavily influenced by Moore and Hepworth. I did not attach a name to this orange monstrosity, but I remember someone telling me it came from St. Martin’s. I went back to Croydon fulminating on this assault to my sensibilities. It was a rebellion against my hero Henry Moore; a reclining figure made of crudely cut and bolted steel girders and painted industrial orange, an angry iconoclastic image, but there was something deeper, a loosening up and a reconstruction of Moore’s seamless monuments. It rattled my cage alright.
My first personal encounter with Tony came a year or so later. I’d just started at St Martin’s and he arrived a few weeks into the term, fresh from the USA. I took to him straight away. He was a star of course, but was friendly and approachable. I remember him showing me how to apply paint to my first steel sculpture. Sometime a little later he had all of our group up to his house in Hampstead to meet Clement Greenberg, Kenneth Noland and his wife Stephanie. Afterwards he took us all to the Flask for lunch. This was typical of Tony’s style, freely improvisational, yet managerial and generous.
I remember too from these early days that Tony ran an experimental course at St Martin’s on Tuesday evenings. We never knew what we were going to do from one week to another. Perhaps we would improvise sculptures from studio bric-a-brac, or another time we had to split up into pairs and enact a mime that represented the feelings about a two-figure composition from a Matisse painting. Some of this went right over my head at the time; the underlying tenor was clear enough though – it was time to question the very nature of sculpture, both how it was made and how it was to be approached.
Peter Hide, 31 October 2013
I was first introduced to Anthony Caro at the Battersea Park Open Air Sculpture exhibition in the summer of 1965, since I was to be the exhibition officer for the British Council’s Venice Biennale exhibit for the following year, and Caro had already been selected.
I got to know him better at Venice in 1966 and we became close friends. When he learnt that I was really a painter doubling as an official, he coaxed me into taking the plunge as an artist first and foremost. He was the first artist I had met, and I had met many, who showed the kind of idealistic high seriousness I expected to go with the role, with none of the smart cynicism of the younger painters tainted by the “pop” ethos.
When I met more of the St Martin’s sculptors, I found that this high seriousness of aspiration, of thought and of open debate, was characteristic of the place, and undoubtedly derived from Caro’s personality, in marked contrast to the macho-pranks, petty rivalries and insecurity-driven posturing of the painters teaching at Chelsea, for instance, where an atelier system had to be introduced to keep rival factions apart. The cubicle system, so typical of many English art-schools, was anathema at St Martin’s, banished by Caro’s example of open communal “crits” and forums.
Caro was charismatic, magnanimous, warm and direct in manner, challenging you to be the best that you could be, to “bear down” on the pursuit of high quality for sculpture, to “make it new”, but through awareness of the lineage of modernist sculpture (deriving he felt, from Picasso’s Cubist collage, but also from Rodin and Matisse).
All this strongly reflected his own experience of the positivist, optimistic, no holds barred atmosphere he had encountered in America – a conviction which never left him, and which coloured his later dealings with his British colleagues and acolytes, particularly after the Greenbergian hegemony had crumbled. When combined with his insistence that one could only achieve high ambition by imbibing wisdom at the feet of his favoured Americans, the idealised picture of America he continued to hold up as an example could be irritating – especially when it was not confirmed by our own direct experiences. But it was none-the-less a central feature of the man, and his view of himself.
Alan Gouk, 8th November 2013
Back in the sixties, when as a student at Bath Academy of Art I was trying to develop my initial interest in sculpture into something more substantial I came across Anthony Caro’s sculpture for the first time. It was Prairie and I saw it in 1967 in the Kasmin Gallery in London. Up to that point I had been encouraged by the more interesting tutors at Bath to look at what was happening in America, not David Smith but Minimalist sculpture in particular. I knew very little about Caro and for some reason was totally unaware of the New Generation in this country. My experience of Minimalism was primarily via photographs but it seemed to offer something graspable, serious and modern. Prairie however was astonishing. The sculpture almost filled the space and its subtle saturated colour helped to increase the impact of the now famous, floating quality of the layered elements. In retrospect I would say it appeared to be the opposite of the minimal, in conception, execution and spirit. Its total unfamiliarity and optimistic quality struck me and stayed with me for some time.
The experience lead me to write to Caro and to my surprise he invited me to his studio. It was the first time I had seen a sculptor’s studio and the experience was vivid. I had come prepared with a list of questions. I do not think I asked a single one but I was impressed that he was prepared to talk with me about his work and was even more impressed that he asked me, a mere student, to describe what I was doing. I came to realise in later years, that he had this way of drawing you in, of making you feel important in the process of looking and of making sculpture.
I wrote to him again a couple of years later when I had finished my course at Bath. For this visit I took along photographs of the weight and balance sculptures I was making at the time. He did not like the work and said so but he was not dismissive. Shelia Caro was also there, he called her over to look at my photographs because, he said, it was serious work.
Katherine Gili, November 2013
If I had to pick one sculpture of Caro’s, it would be Orangerie.
His major contribution to the art of sculpture was in placing, arranging, putting and then joining separate parts against the ground or plinth, as though it were a blank canvas. In a very early steel sculpture (No.7), he also puts some parts higher, to be seen at eye-level. This very expressive interplay of levels is found throughout his work, even in the last works shown in London.
Interplay is very distinct in Orangerie – the second level being a high table where ‘still-life’ parts have been placed and some are hanging down from the table, building downwards, a device first used by David Smith.
It is one of his supreme masterpieces which will remain, and inform younger sculptors for generations to come, as it has informed me.
David Evison, Wuhan, China
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
At the age of 16, I saw an image of the sculpture Early One Morning which was on show at the Hayward Gallery. Like many on first encountering this masterpiece I didn’t know what to make of it. It shocked and surprised me enough to inspire me to make sculpture and go to St Martin’s where Tony Caro was teaching.
Tony absorbed all forms of sculpture and pushed further and further. He was never complacent or self satisfied. He had the ambition drive and energy that most artists can only dream about. At forty and established he had the courage to change his sculpture completely. He had something to say. He took on sculpture and added something new.
Tony Caro had the quality which great artists share, to do more than would seem humanly possible in one life.
I first visited Anthony Caro’s studio in the early 1970s, when I was a rookie curator. We looked at sculptures in progress, talked intensely about them, and then went to a nearby Greek restaurant for lunch, a pattern that persisted for the next four decades. (When the restaurant owner retired, we moved to her brother’s place, not far away.) I visited the studio whenever I was in London, wrote and lectured internationally about Caro’s work, and organized shows of his sculptures. When I was recruited, as a critic, to Triangle, the international artists’ program he founded in 1982, there was more time with Caro in the studio, in upstate New York and once, in Barcelona, when he worked alongside of the other artists who had come from all over the world to participate in the workshop’s stimulating exchanges. Founding Triangle, I discovered, was typical of Caro – a way of fostering talent by creating an ideal situation for artists to make work and respond to it. He remained open to whatever new definitions of sculpture presented themselves – “You make rules for yourself, then you break them,” he often said – and paid attention both to what was going on at Triangle and to his assistants’ work. Caro also quietly bought work by young artists, to encourage and support them.
In the studio, I was expected to look hard and articulate what I thought. It was eye-testing, mind-enlarging, difficult, thrilling, and always unpredictable. Tony restlessly reinvented himself, shifting materials, scales, and attitudes towards mass, volume, and line. What he had already achieved interested him very little. He was energized by what he was going to do next. In the last decades alone, there were architectural scale constructions completely permeable to the eye, intimate bronzes, towers and gateways meant to be physically entered, experiments with glass, opaque enclosures that we had to penetrate mentally, and more. Being forced to come to terms with these challenging, varied sculptures and find common threads among them was crucial to my formation as a critic. I learned more in Tony’s studio than anywhere else.
I was privileged to see sculptures being made, an apparently pragmatic but profoundly intuitive process. “Hold that up, please. Higher. No. I don’t like that at all. Take it away,” Tony would say. “Do we have something like that but thicker?” (When he became interested in larger scale and massive components, Tony acquired a miniature fork lift, much loved by his assistants, a wonderful toy that greatly expedited the trial and error process.) Sometimes the effort was towards what he called “taking away everything that isn’t the sculpture.” His assistants worked hard to keep pace with his desired alterations. Thinking about changes was insufficient; everything had to be real, tangible. Looking critically at his own work, Tony radiated vitality. “It’s getting clearer,” he would say. His best work was very clear indeed but never expected. It compelled our attention with its forthright structure, its surprising spatial articulation, and its subtle variations of how things touched, intervals, and the character of component parts – variations that, as in Matisse’s paintings, are tedious to describe but fascinating to look at. When I was last in the studio with Tony, in early October, we looked at a group of authoritative new works incorporating colored Perspex. Had he come full circle, exploring, in wholly new ways, planes whose transparency altered according to the angle from which they were viewed, like the metal mesh of his works of the 1960s? “Perhaps,” Tony said, unwilling, as ever, to look back, entirely engaged by the present. “These are getting clearer. And I think that one over there is right.”
When Sir Anthony Caro died at the age of 89 on October 23rd, the world lost a sterling individual and a great sculptor. A cheerful man of unbounded curiosity, intellectual rigor, and astonishing resourcefulness, Tony had an exceptionally well-rounded, hands on education. He apprenticed with Sir Charles Wheeler, a conservative sculptor; worked as an assistant to Henry Moore, a pioneer of Modernism; and became friends with David Smith and other contemporary American artists. But he didn’t talk about such things. That was past history. He was a here and now kind of guy. If you never visited his factory-sized studio, you wouldn’t be aware how much hard work went into his getting his stripped down sculptures just right.
Tony primarily thought of himself as an abstractionist. He made a point of telling me that a visit or two ago. While he mostly executed painted metal constructions in steel in series, he also created exceptional sculptures in bronze, stainless steel, wood, glass, ceramics, paper, and even gold and silver. He enjoyed the challenge of making monumental works as well as intimate table pieces. As for the narrative-themed groups like The Trojan War and The Last Judgment, they remind you that he cherished the epic poetry that was part of his English heritage.
Many years ago, Tony said he preferred looking at bad figurative sculpture than bad abstract sculpture because you at least had something to look at. He himself mastered both realms. The Barbarians, his interpretation of warriors on horseback (1999-2002), was enchanting.
Besides his knighthood, bestowed in 1987, Tony was the recipient of many honorary degrees and fellowships, keys to cities, lifetime achievement awards, and the like. As a member of the elite Order of Merit, he enjoyed annual lunches with the Queen at her various palaces. Yet, for all the kudos showered on him, he still relished sharing meals and studio talk with young artists. He was in his element at the Triangle Workshop in Pine Plains. For Sir Anthony Caro, making sculpture was a grand adventure. Or, as he put it in 1972, when I interviewed him for Artforum, “…this business of discovery is what making art is about, and this is where most of the fun lies.” I will miss him dearly.
One of the great gifts – and there were many – that came to artists who knew Caro was witnessing his work method. In the studio, as has often been noted, he frequently made decisions after reacting to the responses of others – asking assistants, visitors, even startled passers-by for their opinion about a particular move: is the sculpture better with this bit here or without it? It was as though a decision would become clear in his mind only when he tested it out on others, when he could react to another¹s reaction to it. He thought outside his head.
This method, at the same time incredibly generous and voracious, took sculpture making off the pedestal of traditional art-making and into a realm of great adventure for all in the room, an adventure generated by what Clement Greenberg used to call the Caro Vortex. His energy, ideas and reactions to ideas would ricochet around the studio in the midst of a hunt for the one that would work best for the sculpture at hand, the idea that would make something new. It was a thrilling process that for many years did nothing less than send me rushing back into my own studio, which for my money is the highest compliment an artist can pay.
Anthony Caro been part of my life since the 1960′s when my mother read out a headline in the Toronto Telegram newspaper – “Anthony Caro Takes Sculpture Off the Plinth” – and explained to me what that magical mystifying phrase meant. Once Early One Morning, came off the plinth, sculpture never looked back.
Tony had complete integrity and the highest of standards in art, yet also he was amazingly creative in Fun. The parties, the occasions were jewels in our existence. The banquet on top of the Trajan Market in Rome was just one of the many instances when Sir Anthony Caro OM, CBE raised us all up with him, feasting with the gods.
Hugely inspirational, supportive to so many artists, a great and pivotal legend in the Art World, irreplaceable as a friend. We can but mourn his passing and give praise for his extraordinary, talented self.
In homage with great admiration, C. Morey de Morand, 24 October 2013, London
Prior to one of his visits to Edmonton Tony asked to be sent photographs of a facility in Medicine Hat, where, a few months earlier, Ken Noland had produced a series of ceramic sculptures. After receiving the photos he called to say that the images didn’t provide him with enough information, that he lacked the imagination to envision how to use the materials, and that he would have to actually visit the site. I thought it was a polite way of saying just how bad the photos were. In any case, he was not at all put off by a round trip of just over 1100 km. It had to be seen, not simply imagined. And like a work method, where any onlooker’s suggestion might be tested, the idea of utilizing a site in a remote area of Canada, without a specific project in mind, was not out of the question, and certainly not new to him.
Tony’s participation at the Emma Lake artists workshop in the late seventies marked a turning point in thinking about how workshops could work. His willingness to take the risk of investing time and energy into such an event not only produced a solid body of work, but laid the groundwork for the Triangle workshops that followed. As an orchestrator, and participant, he was always fully engaged.
Of our road trip to southern Alberta, the landscape proved to be of more interest to him than the ceramic factory. He had me drive him to a game preserve, an oxbow lake on the South Saskatchewan River, just north of Medicine Hat. As we crested the brow overlooking the lake, huge flocks of ducks, geese, and swans began moving in unison across the water, into flight, and then fanning out in all directions. The sound, amplified by the cliffs surrounding the lake, was absolutely deafening. After it had all died down, Tony turned and said “oh, well done”. In that moment, like other moments in his company, I felt that it was possible that I had contributed something more than just being there.
From a perspective of some thirty years on, I can recall that first weekend “crit” at the Triangle Workshop, Pine Plains, New York 1983. It was the second year of this event which had been set up by Tony Caro and Robert Loder. Despite the huge demands in time and energy, Tony continued to inject enthusiasm as its mover and shaker for many years.
Around thirty seven artists from across Canada, the States, UK, France and South Africa had been brought together for dialogue, interaction and experimentation within a highly intensive “pressure cooker” (as Karen Wilkin put it) situation of just two weeks duration.
The critic brought in on that weekend was none other than Clement Greenberg who, Scotch in hand, looked at each one of us in turn over the two days. Tony’s own efforts were not to be spared from his scrutiny and his suggestions taken seriously enough for Pat Cunningham to up end the piece under construction and even to cut a hole in its flank. The ego was put to one side if the collaboration produced a better sculpture. If not it was still possible to reverse the move after its fair try out through practical dialogue. This after all has been at the heart of Tony’s working relationship with Pat throughout the years.
That he was so open and free from “maestro-itis” in our presence impressed me in the way in which it typified that generosity with which he continuously gave of his time, patience and goodwill. Many of us will remember his and Sheila’s visits to our open studios and exhibitions over the years and long after the workshop, those wise and pertinent comments, encouragement and a long lasting friendship.
My experience at Triangle was life changing: the full legacy of the experience most find goes on fermenting for months, even years and my gratitude to Tony endures. I cannot think of another artist of comparable stature who was like his sculpture – so off the plinth.
There has been a tendency in officialdom’s obituaries of Caro to imply he never, later, made anything with the éclat of his work of the 1960s. Certainly there are discriminations to be made among the outpourings of half a century but not to discern the masterpieces right up to his death is a poor response.
Those polychrome pieces that first caught the public eye were just the beginning of an ever-widening range of experiment. Caro was, like for instance, Picasso, the least inhibited of artists. He was always stirring things up. And those shows that so sadly were to be in last in Venice, Chatsworth, Juda and Gagosian all had work in them of the highest stature. But it seems to take longer than I’d thought for this to sink in.
His energy also showed in his generosity. Years ago I coveted a sculpture by Peter Hide. He had more or less agreed a swap when Tony brought a rich collector to look at Peter’s work. He loved the piece I wanted and trumping a swap, paid cash. Tony had noticed the increasing weight in Hide’s work and begun using heavier steel in his own pieces. Not that he ever cut into the massive elements like Peter who uses an angle-grinder on the metal as if it was some kind of super-resistant clay. It takes nothing from Tony’s originality to say that other artists, dead or alive, were all part of his matrix.
The last Caro I looked at was in Christie’s recent “Homage to Chillida” sale, displayed in their Bond St showroom. Made of coarse clay, like the stuff Tapies was fond of using, it is a box with as slightly open drawer in it. The drawer had a circular knob and the whole thing stood on four cylindrical stumpy clay legs. Out of the slot of the slightly open drawer peeped an array of steel tools more or less in one plane, like the elements fronting the dark tunnel in Gonzalez’s abstracted heads. There was a hilarity in the work, as well as depth.
Caro’s sculpture went far beyond surrealism, formalism, abstraction and so on. You can’t pigeonhole a giant. Like so many artists, I count myself lucky to have been alive while Tony was around. He and his work was inspiring.
John McLean, 6/11/13