Buenos Aires Herald, Sunday, July 27, 2003
The material is all there is
even love and intelligence are properties of materials in their extreme form, as far as I am concerned
By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
A long conversation with Tony (Anthony) Cragg on the occasion of the opening of an exhibition of his latest work at Thomas Cohn gallery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, early this month, gave the Herald an insight into the feelings and creative process of this talented sculptor.
Cragg was born in Liverpool, Great Britain, in 1949. Three months later his parents moved away. “My father designed bits of aircraft, electrical parts and we moved around Great Britain, Scotland and Sussex, everywhere, while he designed the different projects”.
Before going to art school the artist worked as a Lab Technician at the National Rubber Producers Research Association. Both his father’s profession and this first job may have been instrumental in developing his inquisitive approach to his work, looking for ways to do things beyond what had already been done before.
He attended the Gloucestershire College of Art in Cheltenham, the Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal College of Art. In 1977 he moved to the town of Wuppertal in Germany, where his first wife was born and raised and has lived there ever since.
From his first sculpture as an art student he has carried on an articulate dialogue with different materials to create forms that do not exist, to fill that void between utilitarian pieces and pieces created by his passionate and matter-of-fact approach to matter, letting the very substance of the materials dictate what the work will become. “There are millions of forms and shapes between the table and the chair, between the table and the lamp, or the chair and the carpet which don’t exist because they are not useful but they can still be important and useful parts of our visual language. Dragons don’ t exist, but they are very important to us.”
Of his early work and of his installations with bottles and found bits and pieces, Cragg said “It was simply the Duchampest strategy of finding what was in the non art world and bringing it into the art world”. Later he realized he wanted to take responsibility for the form.
When the Herald remarked that his early work seemed to stem from the perception of his own body and its movement, he replied, “I am a fanatic materialist, that is what I really am, and because I can see it and I can move it, the body has a role. That is, obviously, the sculptor is an agent of the body. But what I am really interested in is in what the material looks like. I have a great belief in material. I believe the material is all there is. That sounds perhaps difficult, I mean it in a very positive way. Materials are the most beautiful and the most wonderful things; even love and intelligence are properties of materials in their extreme form, as far as I am concerned. And so I look at them in all their shapes and forms”.
“A hundred years ago there were very few materials for sculpture and after a hundred years of artists running through the world and nominating possibilities, we now have a fantastic range of materials that we can use to make sculpture with. I always say the same thing. And in the course of my own working line, as a young man I also looked for new materials, and tried to find meaning in them. That is part of a sculptor’s work”.
Cragg believes that sculpture is still at the beginning of its evolution. He reminds us that a hundred years ago sculpture was figurative and that it was a power symbol in Europe, just for the Church and for the monarchy. “Now it has a completely different function in our world and it has become a radical, cutting edge of our experience with material.”
When asked whether he had positive feelings about using any material, Cragg answered: “There are a lot of choices. Unfortunately I am quite limited. It is very difficult to make anything. The constraints are not just technical and physical; there are an enormous number of intellectual, psychological constraints on one’s activity. Things one doesn’t understand. One doesn’t know how the material works; one can’t read what is happening to it. I work in the evening on a sculpture and I am happy about it and go to bed feeling very good. In the morning it looks something entirely different. It has a different meaning and I discard it. It’s very much about my measuring whatever capabilities I have up against the materials. It is a genuinely non-conceptual investigation of matter”.
The sculptor is also a good writer. “Why am I this shape?” the text in the catalogue of the current show is by him, written in 1998.
Cragg’s basic interests have not changed throughout the years. The differences are that he has learnt more about himself and about his work. As he mentioned before, his creative process in not conceptual. He does not believe in “good ideas” previous to the physical work: “It is only in the making, as soon as I start to move the material, after the first one or two moves that I get into a calculable and more emotional territory, like in a chess game. It is a dialogue, and if I am lucky, it will lead me somewhere I have never been before”.
The large, differently shaped, and differently coloured pieces of sculpture in the elegant exhibition rooms of the gallery exact immediate attention. They are epic in nature, strong and visually fluent. Matter at its best.
An invitation from British Airways to Sao Paulo made covering this exhibition possible.
(Tony Cragg, Thomas Cohn, 642, Europa Avenue, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Until the end of November).