Apollo is deeply saddened to hear of the loss of Sir Anthony Caro, the influential British sculptor who died yesterday at the age of 89. In May 2011 Apollo featured an interview between Caro and Martin Gayford. We revisit passages here, for the artist’s honest and enlightening insights into his own career.
A graduate of the Royal Academy Schools, Caro served as an assistant to Henry Moore in the 1950s:
‘I went up to see him in my little car and knocked on his door. I said, “I’d like to work for you”. He replied, “You might have telephoned, but you’d better come in and have a cup of tea”. I showed him what I was doing, and he said “I haven’t got anything at the moment but why don’t you ring in six months time”. So I counted the days. Six months later to the day I phoned and said “Do you remember me?” He said, ‘Yes I do, start on Monday”.’
Caro spoke highly of Moore, but by the 1960s he had made his first trip to the USA and dramatically altered the path of his own career. He spoke with the influential critic Clement Greenberg, and encountered the work of avant-garde American artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland, John Chamberlain and, in particular, the sculptor David Smith:
‘I was very lucky in knowing both him [Smith] and Henry Moore, one after the other. When I met David I was open to looking at art in a new way, and I found that in America the rules of history didn’t apply. They approached it in a fresher spirit than we did.’
Caro’s resultant steel sculptures such as Early One Morning (1962) diverged radically from the modernist and academic sculptural traditions in which he had trained, and they remain the works for which he is most widely remembered. As a tutor at Central St Martin’s he also inspired a generation of younger artists – Phillip King, David Annesley, Michael Bolus, Tim Scott, William Tucker and Isaac Witkin among them – to explore new artistic directions of their own.
‘I had some very good students’, recalls Caro, ‘and we used to talk about sculpture. What was sculpture? Why did it have to be this? Why did it have to be that? … There was no difference between teachers and students. Exciting things started to happen.’
Caro voiced his doubts about some of the most radical contemporary redefinitions of sculpture: ‘there has to be some sort of a condensation. Something has to be resolved. It cannot just be everyday life, I don’t think’. Nonetheless, his work remains unquestionably influential today. In 2000, he became the first sculptor since his mentor Henry Moore to be awarded the Order of Merit, and he has been the subject of major exhibitions and retrospectives around the world, the latest of which is still open in Venice at the Museo Correr.
The path of Anthony Caro’s long career reflects – and significantly influenced – the wider development of British sculptural practice in the 20th century. A truly pivotal figure, he gathered the weight of British tradition behind him, and tipped it over onto new and fertile ground.