Part of a new five-volume series commemorating the British sculptor’s 85th birthday, Julius Bryant’s richly illustrated Anthony Caro: Figurative and Narrative Sculpture explores the most recent phase in a long and distinguished career. The other books in the series are Drawing in Space by Mary Reid, Interior and Exterior by Karen Wilkin, Presence by Paul Moorhouse, and Small Sculptures by H.F. Westley Smith.
Bryant, a self-professed admirer of Caro, acknowledges that the figurative and narrative works can often seem “uncharacteristic, even of secondary interest.” But citing The Trojan War (1994) as a turning point, he argues that this late-career development must be re-examined as a natural part of Caro’s work and its evolution.
The first third of the book features an extended essay that examines Caro’s place in British art and his influences. Bryant frequently uses the sculptor’s own words as a means of explanation. For instance, at a 1984 lecture, when Caro was asked about the seeming change in his style from abstraction to figuration, he responded: “I never set out to make ‘inhuman’ or even ‘non-figurative’ art: I was driven to make my sculpture abstract in the search for more truth to my feelings and a rejection of the imitation of appearances. I hope my sculpture is as much to do with humanity, being human, and human values, as it ever was, despite the change of subject matter.”
Bryant also chronicles Caro’s working relationship with Henry Moore (whose shifts between abstract and figurative/narrative tendencies could be considered paradigmatic), including early photographs of the two, as well as images of Caro’s drawings with Moore’s corrections. Bryant concludes by analyzing several recent works, including Last Judgment (which was shown at the 1999 Venice Biennale) and Chapel of Light (2008), many of which examine contemporary issues.
Declaring that the purpose of this volume is to transition Caro studies from “contemporary art criticism into art history,” Bryant has organized the rest of the book like an art historical catalogue. Color and black and white photos of selected works accompany short texts that contextualize the pieces within Caro’s development and identify influences (ranging from Brancusi to pre-Colombian art). Such a format creates a focused, specific view of Caro’s figurative and narrative work, making this a useful volume accessible to both casual fans and more serious-minded scholars.
Anthony Caro: Figurative and Narrative Sculpture by Julius Bryant
edited by Susie Foster. Surrey, UK: Lund Humphries, 2009. Hardcover, 128 pages, $60.00.