What Caro can’t carve

Sir An­thony Caro is re­garded as the world’s great­est liv­ing sculp­tor. He talks to Ju­lia Weiner about why he de­signed a church chapel but not a Holo­caust me­mo­rial, and how he put his wife’s face into his latest ex­hi­bi­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS & BOOKS -

AT THE AGE of 84, Sir An­thony Caro could be for­given for down­ing his tools and tak­ing life easy. Widely viewed as the world’s great­est liv­ing sculp­tor, his work is rep­re­sented in over 175 pub­lic col­lec­tions all over the world. How­ever, he con­tin­ues to keep him­self busy — cur­rently there is a spe­cial dis­play of four of his por­trait heads at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery and his work is in­cluded in an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don.

The dis­play at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery is eye­open­ing be­cause it was al­most 50 years ago that Caro broke with the tra­di­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the hu­man fig­ure to ex­plore new ways of mak­ing sculp­ture us­ing in­dus­trial ma­te­ri­als painted in bright colours to cre­ate pure ab­stract forms. But from the mid-1980s, when he felt that the bat­tle for ab­strac­tion had been won, his work broad­ened to in­clude a re­turn to fig­u­ra­tive im­agery and he has, over the years, made a few por­trait heads.

“Por­traits are not some­thing I do reg­u­larly,” he ex­plains, “but I have a wife and I like to make por­traits of her — it is a nice thing to do. And the por­traits that I do of her are al­ways ex­per­i­men­tal. I think I have just done two other por­traits since I have be­come a full­time sculp­tor.”

One of th­ese, a por­trait of the for­mer Arts Coun­cil Chair­man Lord Good­man is on dis­play nearby, the first time it has been shown in pub­lic. It is sur­pris­ingly true to life, es­pe­cially when com­pared with the monumental heads that Caro has made of his wife. “They’re not ex­actly por­traits, are they?” he re­flects. “They are more mood sculp­tures.” Each one is named af­ter a dif­fer­ent time of day and has a dif­fer­ent colour patina rang­ing from the turquoise of morn­ing to the rust of evening. In one, the head ap­pears soft, ten­der and won­der­fully tac­tile, in an­other it is en­cased in the sheets of metal which usu­ally dom­i­nate his work. The artist who is famed for hav­ing taken his sculp­tures off plinths here has his work dis­played on spe­cially com­mis­sioned beech-wood stands.

Caro’s wife is the well-known painter Sheila Gir­ling, whom he mar­ried in 1949. “We were both stu­dents at the Royal Academy Schools,” he says. “I took her draw­ing board by mis­take and it was a good ex­cuse to go and have a cup of cof­fee.”

Gir­ling played a ma­jor part in the de­vel­op­ment of his sculp­ture as it was of­ten she who sug­gested which colours he should paint his work. “Her stu­dio is just across the court­yard from mine,” says Caro. “I don’t visit her un­less I am in­vited and she doesn’t visit me un­less she is in­vited. We have cof­fee to­gether or lunch to­gether and we talk about art.”

De­spite the fact that they have been mar­ried for nearly 50 years, it was only last year that they had their first ma­jor joint ex­hi­bi­tion, which he con­sid­ers to have been a great suc­cess. “Our works went to­gether very well,” he de­clares. “They seemed to click very nicely. I think the mood is sim­i­lar. When you think a lot about art, talk a lot about art, you are very in tune with each other. We are and pretty much al­ways have been in tune with each other in a vis­ual way.”

At the V&A, Caro is fea­tured in Blood on Pa­per, an ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cus­ing on books where artists have been the driv­ing force in con­cep­tion and de­sign. His work Open Se­cret is on show, one of a num­ber of artists’ books com­mis­sioned by Elena Fos­ter, wife of ar­chi­tect Norman.

Caro de­nies hav­ing a strong in­ter­est in the book form. “I’m not par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in mak­ing books. I don’t like the idea of lit­er­a­ture and art to­gether. I’m anti-il­lus­tra­tion. For me, the book it­self should be the art rather than the con­tents.”

For sev­eral years Caro has been work­ing on his Chapel of Light for a church in Bour­bourg, about 12 miles east of Calais, which will open in Oc­to­ber. It is the first chapel in France to be given over en­tirely to one artist’s work since Matisse com­pleted his cel­e­brated chapel in Venice in 1951. Caro is by no means the first Jewish artist to make work for a church; Cha- gall, Rothko and Jac­ques Lip­chitz all hav­ing done so in the past.

“This one just hap­pens to be part of a church. Dur­ing the last war, a Bri­tish plane crash-landed on the roof of the church and set it on fire. They re­stored the main church but not the choir, which was in very bad shape. They left it like that 60 years. When I came along they told me to do what I liked with it. So I re­gard it as a sa­cred space and not nec­es­sar­ily part of the church.”

The dis­tinc­tion was ob­vi­ously im­por­tant to him. “The Bishop wanted the en­trance to be through the church only, but I in­sisted that there should be a door straight out into the street so you don’t have to en­ter through the church. The Bishop de­scribes it as a bap­tis­tery and he feels that it is very much to do with the Chris­tian faith. But I feel that it is to do with all faiths and I would like any­body who wants spir­i­tual time ei­ther to ponder or be tran­quil to be able to go in.”

Caro has pre­vi­ously ex­pressed his de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­sign a Holo­caust me­mo­rial, but has yet to do so. Why not? He pauses for a long time be­fore re­spond­ing and then ad­mits: “It’s the speci­ficity of the Holo­caust that makes it so dif­fi­cult. I can’t quite see my way around it. I don’t know how I would do it. It would have to be very, very ab­stract. It is such a prob­lem.”

Among all Caro’s suc­cesses, the Art News­pa­per has re­cently re­ported one no­table re­jec­tion — West­min­ster Coun­cil has turned down his of­fer to do­nate his mas­sive 100-ton sculp­ture Mill­bank Steps to them say­ing that they could not find an ap­pro­pri­ate lo­ca­tion to site it.

Caro is clearly deeply up­set by this and when asked if there is any pos­si­bil­ity of find­ing an­other Lon­don lo­ca­tion, he barks: “No. I wanted to see it in West­min­ster. It is now avail­able for sale and that is that.” An­thony Caro Por­traits is at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery un­til Septem­ber 7. Tel: 020 7306 0055. Blood on Pa­per — the Art of the Book is at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum un­til June 29. Tel: 020 7942 2000

PHOTO: REX FEA­TURES

SirAn­tho­nyCaroin­hisstu­dioinLon­don.Be­hind­himisamod­e­lofhis­de­sign­forachapelatBour­bourg church in France. “I re­gard it as a sa­cred space, but not nec­es­sar­ily part of the church,” he says Caro’s four heads cur­rently on show at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don. His wife, Sheila Gir­ling, is a favourite sub­ject. The pieces are “not ex­actly por­traits, they are mood sculp­tures”, he says

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