“I hope to carry on for another 10 or 12 years if I’m lucky,” the British sculptor Sir Anthony Caro told the Independent in the summer ahead of a new exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London. “It’s what I like doing. Old age is a shock, but I still enjoy making the works.”
These words are now infused with sadness, as alas, life, elusive, capricious and unknowing, is a strange, tragic creature that we can never control or understand. Caro has died at the age of 89, after suffering a sudden heart attack on Wednesday (October 23rd). The art world has lost a giant.
He was in reflective mood during his interview with the newspaper, but full of life, optimistic about the future and, despite having had a long career – half a century as an artist – of the opinion that he had plenty to give.
“It’s something to get up in the morning for and I look forward to going into the studio,” he said at the time. “I would be bored if I didn’t do that. I’ve chosen a very pleasant life because it’s something I like doing.”
His commitment to art is to the benefit of us all, for he, like the great Henry Moore, presented an entirely unique representation of modern sculpture, suffusing meaning into his abstract works of art. His poetic assemblage of steel, nothing more than an alloy of carbon and iron, created a new and lyrical language that continues to mesmerise.
Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, described him as one of the most outstanding sculptors of the past 50 years, positing him alongside David Smith, Eduardo Chillida, Donald Judd and Richard Serra.
“Caro admired the sculpture of ancient cultures and Greece, and from the 80s onwards produced a series of large-scale abstract works that reflected a continuing interest in the human body, but also a growing fascination with architecture,” Mr Serota reflected.
“Caro was a man of great humility and humanity whose abundant creativity, even as he approached the age of 90, was still evident in the most recent work shown in exhibitions in Venice and London earlier this year.”
Born in Surrey in 1924, Caro went on to study engineering at Christ’s College in Cambridge, after which he moved into sculpture by studying the art form at the Royal Academy Schools. He secured a job as an assistant to Moore, which proved to be the spark he needed to find his artistic voice.
His breakthrough came in 1963, where his Whitechapel Gallery exhibition, characterised by big, bright and non-figurative works of art – and not secured to plinths – revolutionised how sculpture was viewed literally and critically. He gave it another, more universal voice, which opened up new avenues for three-dimensional art.
In a historical context, Caro has been viewed as the successor of giants like Moore and Smith, but perhaps now, with his passing, we will begin to discuss him as an original artist, which is to say that with his reconceptualisation of sculpture, he didn’t just continue in the same mould as his predecessors, he breathed new life into it.
“I did break something open at the beginning,” he reflected in his interview with the Independent.
“A tremendous lot of possibilities opened up to me when that happened, and I’ve been exploring these different areas for the rest of my life. I’m fortunate in that way.”