“Sculpture is the study of the whole material world and it’s about how material and material works affect us.“
Tony Cragg is known to be one of the foremost sculptors in the world. The British contemporary artist has established an amazing international reputation today. Through presenting his imagination to the world, he’s been ideologically eclipsing his forebears and consigning them to a creative limbo. So, what’s that fuss all about?
His sculptures are like voluminal incidences. The synchronousness they have with nature makes them fantastically physically vigorous. There is a tremendous sense of growth and phenomenal energy. You can enjoy his works from so many different angles when you are around them, it’s like a journey. The three-dimensionality of the works makes the possibility of different points of view and interpretations. Caldera*, 2008, for example, refers to the inside of a volcano (as we see magmas that had collapsed), and from an angle, you see two heads touching and kissing. It also has the sense of the landscape in it because of the hued geological layers on the bronze surface of the sculpture and the natural curves and angles that shaped the sculpture.
Cragg calls himself a “radical materialist.” For him, the material is exciting and ultimately sublime. He is constantly experimenting with new forms made from different materials. There’s no limit to the material he might use. No wonder that at first, he found inspiration in man-made waste materials and used them almost like mosaics to decorate walls.
In the late 70s, a movement known variously as neo-expressionism or New Image Painting revived gestural figurative styles, with an institutional seal of approval given by the Royal Academy’s A New Spirit in Painting exhibition in 1981. These works were a reaction against the more austere, esoteric, and anti-commercial extremes of conceptual art. Vast canvases, thick impastos, raw handling, and melodramatic, performance art-style imagery were the order of the day, and pieces sold for vast sums.
The ideas that might take shape in his works are not simple and straight ones. They are thought-out creatures, each ruminated in its own style. “When I’m involved in making sculpture, I’m looking for a system of belief or ethics in the material,” he says. “I want that material to have a dynamic, to push and move and grow.” And yet, he’s not a conceptual artist. He believes that the sculpture he is making today gives birth to the one he is going to make tomorrow. “I have no idea where a drawing might lead,” Cragg tells us. “It’s a journey— an adventure.”
Tony’s works can be considered in biological terms. There are species of work; there are families and there are relatives. There’s a series in which works have got a sense of movement. It’s like a calligraphy of volumes in the space. For example, Can-Can, 2000, which is based on the movements of the great dancer Pina Bausch. Another series of his works is called Rational Beings in which you are faced with a wind-worn smoothed mass, swaying and moving like they have impulsive life of their own. You gradually notice that they are forms of readable human profiles, a kind of ghostly figures fading away.
Tony have described the visual language of his ‘Rational Beings’ as having an ‘emotional vocabulary.’ By emotional vocabulary he means ‘how you actually feel about forms: how you look at them and have certain emotions.’ It’s erroneous to think of them as portraits, they’re not portraits. We see them as portraits because ‘we have this enormous facility to recognize profiles and faces, so it’s almost inevitable that when there are no faces to look at, our brain is revving all the time, looking for parameters for two eyes, and a nose, and a mouth, and some ears.’
Isfahan Museum of Contemporary Art unveiled a vast retrospective titled, ‘Tony Cragg: Roots & Stones’ (February – April 2018), marking the fourth time the artist has shown work in Iran. The exhibition gave a comprehensive overview of the brilliant oeuvre of the artist, consisting of 36 sculptures and 111 works on paper. The exhibition will open on May 1st at the Sanati Museum of Contemporary Art in Kerman.