Tony Cragg | Sculptures and Drawings
I’d put Tony Cragg right at the top of world sculptors of any period, I think he’s up there with the greatest sculptors of all time. He’s got so many different styles that he looks like a group of artists, sort of ten great artists rather than one because he’s working in wood, in marble, in bronze and steel, polished aluminium, he works with hooks, plastic, all kinds of stuff. He’s just insatiably curious and he’s just got a tremendous feeling for form as any sculptor should. You could argue well why don’t you just copy nature as it is but I find it quite difficult to, I’m not really interested in just copying anything so I try to sort of work from the inside out. So Tony was born in 1949 in Liverpool. He moved around as a child to Scotland and south of England following his parents. His father was an electrical engineer working in the aircraft industry and ended up, in fact, designing the electrical mechanism that makes the nose of concorde go up and down so inquisitive nature was part of Tony’s growing up. He gets his inspiration from all kinds of things, I can just imagine sort of him walking along a road and a plastic bottle, bit of broken tyre, anything like that will inspire his curiosity, he’s just fascinated by materials, by the shape of things, what lies underneath the shape and he’d say that there’s a huge amount of work that hasn’t been done in all sorts of different areas by sculptors. We do only see the surface, we don’t have x-ray vision but at the same time I think psychologically we always want to find out what’s underneath the surface we’re seeing. You know, what is underfoot or what is the energy of that material in front of us, is it hot? If it’s an animal or a person what’s under the surface of that exterior? The work that I made in the 70s, there was a lot of found materials, you know wood and metal and then another thing you found would be bottles. He’s looking at the sort of things that we use and own and make continually which are sort of metaphors for our lives and our civilisation and if you think of Henry Moore as someone who’d go along the beach and look for pebbles or bones or flints, this kind of thing, you know then make sculptures which somehow respond to those objects, Tony Cragg is a sort of urban version of that kind of sculptor. The way the material is distributed in the world in a sense, I mean you have a sort of particular nature to things you know so you obviously have atoms and then you have stars and grains of sand on the beach and that tends to end up in sort of stratifications and those strata, you find that in the geology you are in or the layers of the sky or the layers of the skin and everything around you, you end up, so these are the kind of rough distributions or constructions of material the way you find it so the two dimensional surface once you have stratification forming a skin when it’s extended and at some point, inevitably, it meets up on itself making a volume. In the late 80s he started using bronze, casting in bronze and what he was doing was taking those same objects and he might get a shampoo bottle swirling around in a sculptural form into an oil can, that kind of thing and it’s just, these are the inspiration which provide the drive to the work but then it becomes completely artistic, and it’s his head getting hold of these objects and just doing something really crazy and magical and inspiring with them as you can see on the lawn in front of the Gallery of Modern Art so something that’s really basic and dull turns into something that’s extraordinary. I mean all material has certain physical properties and you can’t get away from its colour and the fact we, I mean if you’re looking at things, we only see things, grace the fact that light reflects off a surface and that light that comes into your eye from that reflection has been vetted in a sense by that material and so if you’re seeing green it’s only because the grass has absorbed all the other colours, it’s not letting you see other colours because it keeps them for themselves. Wood and bronze, they all have their colours and obviously you can just leave them as they are but they change anyway in the climate, with the light, whatever, I mean materials are never neutral, it’s always changing. So this exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art of Tony Cragg’s work I think is one of the best shows that we’ve ever done. It’s an exciting show to work with him on, he’s an amazing man, an amazing sculptor and this is one of the great things about this exhibition that while he may be known for the work of the 1980s internationally, I think his greatest work is happening now so this exhibition brings to the British public work they’ve never seen before and a completely different kind of work as well.