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Teaching and other ways of finding stimulation


Rethinking sculpture
Anthony Caro Artist
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[Q] I wanted to go back to the beginning of the '60s and to what is now seen art historically as a group of... of younger sculptors – Phillip King, William Tucker, David Annesley, Michael Bolus, Isaac Witkin and others – who were seen to be a... a group that were inspired by, that were led by, you, who then came to prominence in that show in 1965 at the Whitechapel called "New Generation", curated by Bryan Robertson. Did it feel at the time as if you were a loosely knit group forging ahead, redefining the language of sculpture?

Yeah, yeah. I was older. I was ten years older and I was the teacher. But absolutely, absolutely. We were starting to re-think what could sculpture be. ‘Oh', says Tony, ‘it could be anything'. I wish I'd never said that. But, yes, it was... it was... we were starting to re-think it because previously sculpture had been what Henry said it was, you know. It was... it was bronze and stone and wood, and it was the inside pushing out and so on. Now, wait a minute, why does it have to be these sort of materials? And of course there was a lot of funny things happened at that time which are sort of happening now, like people, you know, breathing and calling it sculpture, or, you know, Gilbert & George and all these things... all these things were natural outcomes of one's... of... of opening sculpture up. But I do think, yes, I think that... the first lot, we definitely were. We were definitely trying to... to see where it could go. I think it... Tim Hilton put it very well. We sort of tried to push the balloon and see where it... you know, where it was going to... where it was going to tear or break or something. How far could we go, you know? We certainly went into things like colour for that reason too.

[Q] And did you feel that you were, in a way, working almost collaboratively in the sharing of ideas, or was this a very individual... was it a group of individuals who, for various reasons, produced work that had certain similarities and certain differences?

No, I think we were... in a way, we were a group. We didn't give a damn about what anybody else did but we did say, ‘Look, I've made a sculpture; come and see it’. And I remember, you know, going to all these people's houses, seeing what they'd done – extraordinary sculptures of Philip's which were, you know, just amazing – and what a shock they were. You didn't know why you liked it. Yes, it was good or... or seeing Bill's doing a different thing, you know. You would go, or say to them, ‘Come and see what I've done’. It was... they were the... they were our audience. They... it was tiny; it was tiny. There were six people or something and that was it. You know, with the years of Gilbert & George and company were the second or third generation. The first generation was six people or something, and I do think we broke sculpture open; I think we did... we did release it. And sculptors were stupid people in those days; they were expected to be dumb carvers, hitters, you know. They were very physical. They were... they were an extension of the traditional stone carver who did the memorials and... and then, you know, it went to people like Eric Gill and so on. But they were... that was the sort of tradition. And I think Moore changed things, and... and Epstein before him changed things a good deal and... and we, in our turn, changed... changed some more things, you know?

[Q] And then, as you say, there came the next generation, with Barry Flanagan and Bruce McLean and Richard Long and Gilbert & George and Hamish Fulton and others, who, in a way, were doing to you what you had done to Moore, which was this strong reaction against...

Oh yes, absolutely, and they were all at St Martin's. And we didn't agree with them all. I mean a lot of them we didn't agree with, you know, and I couldn't see a lot of it. A lot of it I couldn't see, and I remember arguing with Richard Long and people. I mean, you know, yes certainly, we did. And people were trying all sorts of things, and then we would do... I mean there was a wonderful atmosphere. I mean we would do... You see, I would teach on Wednesdays and Fridays, and on Wednesday evenings we would finish at four, and then we'd start again at six 'til eight-thirty. And then late... that last evening session, we would call it an experimental session, so we would try everything. ‘Okay, at four o'clock, or four-thirty, or whatever, go into... into Soho and bring back stuff’. And when they’d bring it back: ‘Now make a sculpture with what you've brought back’. Or... a lot of it was theatrical too, you know, doing things with... with dividers like... like screens and working between the screens so you couldn't see the other person. And then one chap I remember... he... he had different lengths of... of steel and connectors, and he made a game of it, so you each had your position and you had to try and conquer the other ones. And it made a sculpture in the end. I mean all ways of making sculptures, you know – all ways of rethinking sculpture.

I always remember Barry Flanagan and saying, ‘Make a sound, make a sound’, and then Barry picks up a piece of clay and throws it at the wall and it makes a bang. He said, ‘That's my sculpture’. And I said, ‘It's not sculpture’. This is when... then we started to argue about when is it sculpture, when is it not sculpture. I mean this... all this, yes, it was very... it was very challenging and inventive. And the way of making sculpture at school was... was different insofar as when you did a figure you would go along and say, ‘That figure is not standing and so on – change it’. I left everything alone until people were ready to... to have a crit and then we'd have a criticism. And we'd all get round and talk about these things.

British sculptor Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013) came to prominence in 1963 after a show at the Whitechapel Gallery. Keen to create a more direct interaction with the viewer he placed pieces directly on the ground, rather than on plinths, a technique now widely used. He held many honorary degrees and was knighted in 1987.

Listeners: Tim Marlow

Tim Marlow is a writer, broadcaster and art historian. He founded "Tate: The Art Magazine" in 1993 and was presenter of Radio 4 arts programme "Kaleidoscope" from 1991 to 1998, for which he won a Sony Award. He has presented art programme's on BBC 1, Channel 4 and Channel 5, including a documentary about JMW Turner, and written about art and culture for various British newspapers and magazines including "The Guardian", "The Times" and "Blueprint" He is Director of Exhibitions at the White Cube gallery in London as well as a visiting lecturer at Winchester School of Art, an examiner on the Sculpture MA there and former creative director of Sculpture at Goodwood

Tags: Saint Martin's, Henry Moore, Phillip King, Eric Gill, Barry Flanagan, William Tucker, David Annesley, Michael Bolus, Isaac Witkin, Bryan Robertson, Gilbert & George, Jacob Epstein, Bruice McLean, Richard Long, Hamish Fulton

Duration: 7 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008