English sculptor. He had a conservative training from 1947 to 1952 at the Royal Academy Schools, London, which was greatly enriched by the two years (1951–3) he spent as assistant to Henry Moore, learning not only from his ideas but from the books in Moore’s library. Woman Waking (1959; London, Tate) exemplifies Caro’s work of the 1950s when he modelled figural works in a loosely expressionist vein that sought to express how the body felt from the inside out. The lumpy, awkward and ponderous masses of these works owe much to Picasso and Dubuffet, especially the latter’s Corps de dames series of 1950. By the end of the decade Caro’s growing dissatisfaction with this mode of working led him to experiment with other materials and more spontaneous effects, often explored during teaching projects at St Martin’s School of Art, London, where he worked part-time from 1953. These experiments bore fruit after a visit to the USA from 1959 to 1960 during which he was influenced by the critic Clement Greenberg and by the work of such artists as Kenneth Noland and David Smith. On his return Caro began welding standardized metal units into abstract configurations, which were then further unified by being painted in a single primary colour. Although their syntax was derived from Cubism and was uncompromisingly abstract, these open form sculptures placed directly on the ground still related to the figure through their gestural or bodily calligraphy and scale. They rapidly took on a predominantly horizontal axis, a lyrical mood and a light open infrastructure of cantilevered planes and lines as in Early One Morning (1962; London, Tate). Caro denied the weight, appearance and attendant connotations of the material and made sculpture which seemed almost to hover above the ground, touching it lightly at several discrete points. Throughout the later 1960s Caro also made a number of small sculptures known as Table Pieces, incorporating tools, handles and other manual references in which he maintained an equivalence between size and scale without sacrificing that anonymous handling of material central to his practice. Caro’s first solo show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London brought him considerable critical attention. He was quickly regarded as a major figure for his role, both through his work and his teaching, in re-orientating the mainstream of modernist British sculpture into an abstract constructed mode. The previous decade had been dominated by the monumental monolithic sculpture of Moore, and by the so-called ‘Geometry of Fear’, eviscerated figurative sculpture by artists such as Reg Butler and Lynn Chadwick. Caro’s example can be said to have created a new school in its wake.
In 1972 Caro was invited to Verduggio in Italy where he found a factory that could provide him with a plentiful supply of irregularly shaped soft steel offcuts. Leaving the material raw, protected only by a coat of varnish, he manipulated these components into relatively simple planar configurations, often with a vertical orientation. His new-found affirmation of the literalness of the metal was offset by the associative character of its surfaces and textures as well as by the irregular shapes of the forms. These were akin to those found in the earlier paintings of Helen Frankenthaler, who had worked in his studio several months previously, and to the work of Jules Olitski. Following his major exhibition at MOMA, New York (1975), which subsequently toured the USA, his reputation in that country was high, notably in circles influenced by Greenberg’s formalist aesthetic. A rare example of a public sculpture by Caro is National Gallery Ledge Piece commissioned by the National Gallery in Washington, DC, for the east building in 1978.
By the end of the decade Caro’s growing fascination with freely formed metal had led him to experiment in welding sheet bronze, in addition to casting from found objects like pots, both whole and broken. The resulting sculptures were more insistently Cubist in character than his work of previous years, and became looser and grander during the early 1980s. By mid-decade the organic, even figurative, associations generated in his abstract metal sculpture had acquired a fully representational counterpart in the series of small-scale modelled sculpture of female figures derived from life drawings. References to the art of the past, which in later work informed Caro’s sculpture more overtly, erupted in 1986 into a series of paraphrases made after an 11th-century sandstone Indian carving which he greatly admired. As a result of these investigations he alternated between the two idioms of abstract constructed sculpture and modelled figural bronzes.
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press