PRINT Summer 1972

An Interview with Anthony Caro

ARE THE INTENTIONS OF YOUR figurative sculptures related to your recent work?

My figurative sculptures were to do with what it’s like to be inside the body. That means, what it’s like to be sitting in this chair, or lying down flat, how it feels to smile. For example, when you’re lying down, you feel heavy; your weight causes you to feel flattened and pressed down. The figurative sculptures were about this sort of thing. But all sculpture in some way has to do with the body. For instance, my sculptures now are partly dependent upon the spectator’s height from the floor when he is standing up: on his vertical stance, his consciousness of flat ground. Sculptors and architects are necessarily conscious of the body—it’s very important. I’ve never wanted to take sculpture right out of reality into the realm of illusion, out of thingness, weight or physicality. I don’t necessarily want to call attention all the time to sculpture’s physicality, but I am forced to take these qualities into account, just as the painter cannot ignore the qualities of his medium.

Is the acknowledgment of mass and weight crucial for achieving a floating quality?

All sculptors have dreams of defying gravity. One of the inherent qualities about sculpture is its heaviness, its substance. There is an attraction in the dream of putting heavy pieces calmly up in the air and getting them to stay there. I have tried to do this, for example, in Month of May. But later I realized that if you can make the floor act as part of the sculpture and not just the base, then the pieces will float and move anyway. In Prairie, the tubing appears to float, just extending into the air. I would like to make sculptures that are more abstract. Sculpture of its nature is not as abstract as painting. The sculptor’s problem right now, I think, is to make sculpture more abstract than it has been before. In the last few years, sculpture became more anonymous in order to get away from the tyranny of materials. And the treatment and paint surface all gave it a blandness. Right now, I wonder if sculpture could gain impetus from more feeling for material, possibly for materials that haven’t much been associated with it—string or paper, for example. Making sculpture more abstract doesn’t necessarily take away its reality, its stuffiness.

Do you evaluate your sculptures considering their appearance indoors and outside?

I don’t really evaluate a sculpture once I’ve finished it because that is to do with being a critic and not a sculptor; at a certain point in the making of a sculpture my own evaluation stops, and then the work can stand on its own. Monet’s art and David Smith’s are examples of the gain to one’s work of keeping the momentum going.

Of course there are some wrong settings for sculpture. Just as it would be meaningless to play a quartet in a marketplace, so there are some quite unsuitable sites for certain sculptures. I prefer my sculpture to be seen in a tranquil and enclosed space. Almost all sculpture, I guess, needs to be indoors—or enclosed in some way; it mostly blows away if it’s in the open air, or else it becomes environment. To get post-Renaissance sculpture to hold its own outdoors, it has to be really differently conceived and a sculpture which could hold its own outside a skyscraper hasn’t been made yet, so far as I know. There are architectural squares in Venice which hold space almost like a room, where even a flagpole looks right sculpturally. But modern sculptures would look wrong in those settings because the sculptures are not architectural in a Renaissance sense, either in scale or concept. It would be necessary to think about the problem quite freshly. Certainly, just blowing existing sculpture up big would not meet the case at all. For my part, up to now, all my sculpture (however large) is un-public.

Do you have any objections to a spectator’s experiencing one of your sculptures by walking into it and over it, when they can?

Yes, I do. When it’s sculpture, it’s to be looked at. Sculpture, for me, is something outside of which you are. It’s not something you can get inside; it’s not architecture or environment. I put this limit on sculpture and I think that by so doing, I gain more freedom, not less. Every generation allows for sculpture or painting a little different theater of operations than before. And all new art at the time it is made is about going as close to the edge as possible, but without losing one’s foothold. So we extend out limits and take our risks, but not without caution. In this way, all control doesn’t get lost.

Without walking around a sculpture, wouldn’t you lose the necessary viewpoints?

You didn’t say around, you said walking into: walking into a building and walking around a building are different. Walking around my sculptures is important, at the very least, even if only because it gives knowledge of widths or thicknesses. But I don’t recommend my sculpture be looked at as one looks at a sculpture built volumetrically around a central core. There are films where a fixed camera shows such a sculpture turning and each frame reveals a new aspect—the pace of change here is too steady for my work.

Do you distinguish between a sculpture’s size and scale and their relationship to the spectator?

The old statue was made on a base and it inhabited a world of its own, the limits of which were set by the limits of its base. Whether it was an equestrian statue or a little model on a piano or a mantelpiece, it inhabited its own world. I don’t want my sculpture to relate to the spectator in this imaginary sort of way. It has to do with presence, more as one person relates to another.

When you speak of a sculpture of abstraction, does that mean an art devoid of content?

Is orchestral or chamber music devoid of content because it’s more abstract than opera or love songs? Your question is such an old and tired one; I can only answer by repeating what has been said many times before, and in a hundred different ways. In sculpture and painting and music, whether figurative or abstract, feelings and moods are somehow implied and the sensibilities of the artist are reflected in the work. The art that I prefer is that in which intelligence and sensuality are both given rein. I aim in my work for the form and content, problem-solving and expression to be so integrated that they are indivisible. And the meaning should be right there in the sculptural expression.

In the beginning, did you use color to unify pieces because they had, say, different shapes and different weights?

In 1959 or ’60, I wanted my sculpture to look straightforward: no art props, no nostalgia, no feelings of the preciousness associated with something because it’s old or bronze, or it’s rusty, encrusted, or patinated. So I just covered it with a coat of paint. I used brown or black paint and the sculptures looked more as if they were destined for a locomotive factory than an art gallery. Later, I found the browns and blacks rather drab, and so I experimented with other colors and I found that they often helped to emphasize the mood of the work.

Have you ever found that you emphasize rectilinearity rather than curvilinear forms?

I think perhaps I am attracted to each at different times. The rococo lyricism and flamboyance of curves are dangerous because they can take possession of a sculpture. Answering curves and licks leads straight into sheer design. Similarly, so can that neat rectangle be a bad master. But they’re all bad masters, those things: it’s like being trapped by a style. Style has just nothing to do with art—it’s the intent that counts.

Do you find that after working on large-size sculpture, it’s a relief doing smaller ones?

Yes, I treat the small ones like that. Maybe they’re like drawings. I often make them in the evenings when I have been at work during the day on something large. I like to vary the size. Getting to know how one works well in the studio and learning to go with that rhythm is a very important part of the business of making art.

Do you ever consider your sculptures as relating to the idea of drawing in space?

No, I almost never start working from a flat beginning. If by drawing in space you mean essentially a two-dimensional approach, then the answer is no, I almost never start working from a flat beginning; but I am interested in exploring space in a free, unconstrained way. As it happens, my training as a student emphasized that one perceived sculptural shape in the way that your hand holds a pebble, and I think there’s still some consciousness of implied volume in the flattest, most silhouetted works I’ve made.

If you were working on a sculpture in a room small enough so that you couldn’t back away, how did you get it out the door?

That’s a practical thought. If they were very big, they were always bolted. All my sculpture of any size has to be in pieces because it is supported over a considerable distance of ground. Unlike a vertical construction which rests on a small area, once a heavy, loosely joined horizontal object no longer has the support of the ground, it’s impossible to move it in one piece. Obviously you can’t just pick it up and carry it away because it’s the ground which normally does the work. For that reason, I bolt it in as many places as is needed and dismantle and demount it.

The advantage of making them where I couldn’t stand back from them was that I used this limitation to prevent my falling back on my previous knowledge of balance and composition. That’s not new. Kenneth Noland told me in 1959 how he painted on the floor and on sawhorses for the same reason. Working in a one-car garage as I used to do was a way of trying to force my mind to accept a new sort of rightness that I wanted—I had to refrain from backing away and editing the work prematurely. When I took the work outside, it was a shock sometimes insofar as it looked different from sculptures that I was accustomed to. So I was able to discover something and that’s what I wanted to do. But this business of discovery is what making art is about, and this is where most of the fun lies.