Important Art by Anthony Caro
Anthony Caro's early sculptures differ greatly from the abstract works which he began to construct from welded steel from the early 1960s onwards, and for which he would become famous. Having served as Henry Moore's studio-assistant since around 1951, Caro's first pieces suggest the stimulus provided by the older artist's practice, but also Caro's attempt to wrest free from Moore's influence. Woman Waking Up is similar to Moore's work in its abstract anthropomorphic form, but eschews his direct carving technique in favor of the more old-fashioned process of modelling in clay.
Woman Waking Up was made by dropping soft clay from a height, creating an amorphous mass which was then manipulated into a figurative shape (based on the traditional sculptural form of the reclining nude). Utilizing a significant element of chance in the composition process, Caro created a work whose pitted and rough surface contrasted deliberately with the characteristically smooth patina of Moore's works in bronze and stone.
The critic Jorella Andrews argues that this work represents "a quest to try and find new parameters for sculpture, to push it as far as it could go, using relentless experimentation at a material and compositional level. Indeed, in their unformedness, these figurative works have themselves often been described as full of yearning: the body as experienced from the inside, striving to break out of its confines, to find definition and release." However, various aspects of the piece, including the broadly representative form, and the use of a base for the sculpture, indicate the scope of developments still to come in terms of the abstract character of Caro's work.
Twenty Four Hours is often described as Caro's first truly abstract sculpture, one which breaks away entirely from the conventions of figurative representation. As a student, and while working for Henry Moore, Caro had produced experimental works which nonetheless remained within the bounds of figurative modelling. But following his trip to the USA in 1959, he completely redefined his practice.
That redefinition is evident partly from Caro's construction process. Rather than modelling or carving, Caro created this work by industrial welding, a technique which would become something of a signature style. He also disposed of the plinth, placing the sculpture directly on the floor, thus situating it emphatically in the 'real world', and in the physical and sensory space of the viewer. Such gestures represent a conspicuous rejection of the inherited conventions of both classical and modern sculpture. The circular form behind the central trapezoid shape, meanwhile, might imply an affinity with the American painter Kenneth Noland, whose work Caro had encountered in the US, and which often features concentric rings. Any element of conscious homage seems unlikely, however, as the piece was created through an instinctive process of experiment and chance-based discovery. Caro latter recalling thinking to himself: "[t]hat sculpture is right, it's the way I want it. I'm into something I don't know about and I'm going to keep going and see where I get to."
Almost all subsequent developments in Caro's practice can be traced back to the formative gesture represented by Twenty Four Hours, and many of the individual figural forms and motifs found in the work would reappear across the remainder of Caro's career. This is also seen as a vital work in the history of British sculpture, defining a post-war aesthetic of pure abstraction of which Caro was the primary exponent.
Early One Morning is seen as one of Caro's boldest and most sophisticated works. Painted in bright red, and constructed from disparate-seeming steel components, it confounds the viewer's expectations in subtle but profound ways. It has something of the haphazard quality of an assemblage, but is granted a sense of homogeneity and harmony by the uniform color.
Early One Morning can be primarily seen as an exploration of spatiality, and as an interrogation of the formal parameters of different artistic media. Caro makes the unprecedented move of arranging his sculptural elements along a horizontal plane: viewed head-on, they thus seem concentrated into an almost pictorial form, with the metal square at the back serving as a canvas (Caro himself noted that "although for this piece, a work by Alexander Calder was my initial suggestion, my source was invariably painting rather than sculpture.") As soon as the viewer begins to walk around the piece, however, that pictorial harmony is exploded, and the work seems to expand in space, with new angles and elements appearing and disappearing at every step. This refusal to privilege a single, 'ideal' viewing perspective represents a radical rejection of sculptural convention, and suggests the inability of artistic form to capture physical reality. A significant and related aspect of the viewing process is the time taken to walk around the piece (it is over 20 feet long) which adds a temporal dimension, and grants the sculpture something of the time-bound quality of music. Indeed, Caro later described Early One Morning as "like a song, moving along in time. In this sculpture the parts are separated, so as to open out and extend the sculpture."
The art historian Rosalind Krauss has argued that "[i]n a picture, every dimension of real space must be collapsed onto a flattened, vertically oriented plane; and in Early One Morning Caro constructs a model of this experience of a world compressed into the uprightness of painting." In another sense, however, this experience of the work as a picture is confounded by its simultaneous presence as a brute physical object. Krauss goes on: "[t]he achievement of Early One Morning is not only that it provides these two possibilities but that it shows them to be mutually incompatible." It is also a piece which stands at the forefront of developments in abstract sculpture globally across the late-20th century, being comparable in both color and compositional material, for example, to many subsequent works by Mark di Suvero.