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Anthony Caro - Biography and Legacy

British Sculptor

Born: 8 March 1924 - London, UK
Died: 23 October 2013 - London, UK

Biography of Anthony Caro


Antony Caro was born in New Malden in South-West London, the youngest of three siblings born to Jewish (but not religiously observant) parents Alfred and Mary. He was sent to Charterhouse, a private school in Surrey, where one of his housemasters introduced him to the sculptor Charles Wheeler, a future president of the Royal Academy who would tutor Caro during the school holidays. In 1942, Caro started an engineering degree at Christ's College, Cambridge, but he still felt the pull of Wheeler's influence, and continued to study sculpture with him at Farnham Art School in Surrey during his vacations. After graduating from Cambridge, Caro joined the Royal Navy, serving for two years in the Fleet Air Arm.

Early Training and Work

By 1946, Caro had decided to pursue a career as a sculptor. He became a full-time student at the Regent Street Polytechnic, studying under the artist Geoffrey Deeley. Caro continued his artistic education at the Royal Academy between 1947 and 1953, learning traditional sculptural techniques, and making copies of classical statuary.

While at the Royal Academy, Caro met the painter Sheila Girling, a fellow student. They married in 1949, and had two sons, Timothy and Paul, in 1951 and 1958. The year their eldest son was born, Caro made an unsolicited visit to Henry Moore's studio in Hertfordshire, apparently simply knocking on the artist's door. He was invited in, and six months later was given a part-time job as Moore's assistant; he moved his family to the area shortly afterwards. Of his time working with Moore, Caro stated: "[h]e introduced me to modern art, [...] and to a whole new world of non-academic art that I had not ever come into contact with before." He also noted: "[a]ll students of sculpture are indebted to him, and all at one time or another in their careers are influenced by his work; he provides an alphabet and a discipline within which to start to develop. His success has created a climate for all of us younger sculptors and has given us confidence in ourselves which without his efforts we would not have felt."

Mature Period

In 1953, Caro started teaching part-time at St Martin's School of Art in London, a position he held until 1981. Teaching would become a significant part of his life, and during that period he tutored some of the most significant British sculptors of the later 20th century, including Barry Flanagan, Richard Long, and Gilbert & George.

Caro's first solo show took place in 1956 at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan, followed quickly by a solo show at the Gimpel Fils Gallery in London. Two years later, one of his sculptures was included in the Venice Biennale of 1958; in 1959, the Tate Gallery purchased one of his works, and he was awarded first prize for sculpture at the Paris Biennale des Jeunes. At this time, Caro was still working in what might be called his early style, drawing on the classical influences which had underpinned his training, but a trip to the United States the same year turned out to be a transformative experience. Funded by the Ford Foundation English Speaking Union, his visit included meetings with the influential art critic Clement Greenberg and the painters Kenneth Noland and Helen Frankenthaler. Caro also discovered the innovative sculptural constructions of David Smith, whom he would get to know better on a later visit in 1963.

These experiences fundamentally altered Caro's perception of art, and of sculpture in particular. Upon his return to London, he abandoned the figurative approach of his early work, and began purchasing welding equipment and scrap metal. The importance of his first entirely abstract sculptures was recognized quickly by the art-world, and he was offered a solo show at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1963.

During the mid-1960s, Caro made regular visits to the US, teaching and working at Bennington College in Vermont. He renewed several of his friendships with American artists, including with Kenneth Noland, whose suggestion that he work in series had a powerful effect on Caro. He worked regularly in collaboration with other artists at this time - as he had done, to some extent, throughout his career - and often drew inspiration from the advice of friends. In the late 1960s, for example, the critic Michael Fried prompted him to work on a sequence of small table-top pieces, designed to adhere to the edges of flat surfaces. In 1969, Caro moved his studio to a former piano factory in Camden, London, where he employed the engineer Patrick Cunningham as his studio assistant (a role that Cunnigham would fulfil for the next 35 years).

The same year, Caro began to buy pieces of agricultural machinery, with a view to incorporate them into his sculptures. Two years later, he travelled the world with his family, visiting Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and India, giving lectures at various art schools and universities. In 1976, he was presented with a key to the City of New York, in acknowledgement of his contribution to American culture.

Late Period

During the later decades of his life, Caro began to experiment with a wider range of sculptural materials, including clay, bronze, and handmade paper. In the mid-1980s he made a number of pieces inspired by his travels, including works in bronze based on Indian reliefs, and a series of sculptures influenced by ancient Greek architectural pediments. His interest in architecture also led him, from 1984 onwards, to move into the area of what he called "sculpitecture", a practice which pushed the boundaries between artistic and architectural design. Noting that "[a]rchitects do not get their hands dirty enough", he worked on a range of projects, including a sculpitectural "village" with the architect Frank Gehry, and, in the 1990s, the famous Millennium Bridge linking St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tate Modern Gallery, with the architect Norman Foster.

In the year 2000, Anthony Caro was awarded the Order of Merit by the UK government, a title restricted to 24 living recipients; he was the first sculptor to receive the award since Henry Moore in 1963. As active as ever, Caro continued to create and exhibit work right up until his death of a heart attack in 2013, at the age of 89.

The Legacy of Anthony Caro

Antony Caro was one of the most influential figures in British sculpture during the second half of the 20th century, and through his work at St Martin's School of Art he helped to shape the careers of many younger artists. In particular, the influential 1965 New Generation exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery featured works by a number of sculptors taught by Caro.

While some of his students, such as Phillip King and Richard, followed his lead stylistically, others deliberately rebelled against the hegemony which they saw forming around Caro's popular abstract style. Richard Long incorporated performance and photography into his practice, while Bruce McLean, reacting against what he saw as Caro's academicism, began making sculptures out of rubbish. The artistic duo of Gilbert and George responded to Caro's pared-down aesthetic by creating installation works full of color and irreverence. Nonetheless, such work might not have been created without Caro's practice to respond to: whether as inspiration or foil.

Caro arguably had a more direct stylistic influence on sculptors who didn't study under him, such as the artist Richard Serra, known for his large-scale assemblages of sheet-metal. Of this connection, Caro noted: "Philip Glass, the composer, said to me that Serra was aware of my work [...] but it is not where you get it from but what you do with it." Caro's place in the genealogy of modern art was perhaps already ensured in 1964 by the praise of the canon-making critic Clement Greenberg, who remarked: "[w]ithout maintaining necessarily that he is a better artist than Turner, I would venture to say that Caro comes closer to the genuine grand manner - genuine because original and unsynthetic - than any English artist before him." Whether or not his practice stands for the institutionalization of avant-garde aesthetics across the later part of the 20th century, Anthony Caro remains a respected and hugely popular artist today, especially in Britain.

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Content compiled and written by Anna Souter

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Greg Thomas

"Anthony Caro Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Anna Souter
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Greg Thomas
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First published on 09 Mar 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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