The Monumental Tony Cragg

Anthony Cragg’s "Tongue in cheek,” with "Ferryman" in the background
The Monumental

Tony Cragg

Sandra Kwock-Silve

Looking for piggy-phants

“We can’t leave the shape of the future to politicians and businessmen”

Tony Cragg has “grown up.” This celebrated British sculptor now wishes to be known as Anthony Cragg... And — as a matter of fact — his sculptures have “grown” too! This spring, twelve XXL pieces by “the artist formerly known as Tony Cragg” are featured in an outdoor show, organized by the Chantal Crousel gallery in front of the Bibliothèque Nationale. This is an event in itself in that it’s the first time that Cragg’s monumental output is on view in France. Made of Kevlar, stainless steel and bronze, these works constitute an exciting development for this trailblazer already acclaimed for his installations relying largely on recycled materials.

Geometric sheathes contrast with more fluid organic envelopes, prompting groundbreaking dialogue that raises questions about what it means to be amorphous, geometric or representational in terms of sculptural form today. In this recent interview, Cragg — who is one of the international scene’s most innovative figures — provides the Paris Voice with engaging insights into emerging trends and the future of 3D.

“Today’s sculptors are still discovering new materials. Industrial products have pushed their way into our lives and psychology to such an extent that these objects have become like huge still lifes in our environment. Marcel Duchamp's use of industrial objects isn’t a surprising thing in itself — but his ‘act’ extended the range of objects that could be used to make sculpture. Duchamp’s strategy or ‘attitude’ raised all kinds of questions about the fine line between where art begins, and ends... There comes a point when you've used up all the ready-made image options — urinals, soup cans, dollar bills and even bicycle wheels attached to stools.

“During the late 1970s, I began working with found materials. I would go to a place and collect various items, then install the exhibition. But, this is a ‘gesture’ one can only take so far... I reached a point where I felt that I needed to take more responsibility for the actual forms and objects. This is one of the principal issues of contemporary sculpture. Marcel Duchamp's philosophy is running out of steam. An expression of post-modern times... What do we want to do with this vocabulary today? Although, I continue to work with found materials, these were not really ‘possible’ for an outdoor site.

“The 1970s in Britain were a ‘depressed’ time. Everything was broken. Nothing was new... Plastic was a clean, new synthetic material for sculptors to work with. It’s a common artistic method to use techniques in which accumulations of various particles are deployed. This is the basic principle behind painting and drawing. I’ve made several works based on it. I’m aware of the complicated rapport between the material, object and image, and the endless possibilities it generates when it comes to form and meaning.

“Sculptures that are based on ‘strata’ or ‘stacking’ provide an opportunity to experience the very substance of a given material, in the context of a ‘primary’ formal construction. Working with and looking at pieces that are in some way layered always gives us a sensation akin to ‘traveling’ in a foreign medium, enabling us to see some hidden aspect of the object. These works also tend to address fundamental problems posed by the overall form of larger accumulations in space.

“Everything in our present visual ‘reality’ is a product of utilitarianism. There are obvious objects such as chairs or tables. Yet, ‘in between,’ other objects could exist... For instance, you know what a pig looks like. And, you know what an elephant looks like. But, you don't know what a ‘Piggy-Phant’ looks like... And, if you met it in the park you’d be afraid! A ‘Piggy-Phant’ would be a ‘new reality.’ This is what a sculptor is doing — looking for ‘Piggy-Phants.’ In between the objects that are there just for utility’s sake, the sculptor is searching for new possibilities, connected with language and form. What we actually perceive as reality is merely a limited ‘reduction’ of possiblities... Sculpture involves developing an ‘attitude’ that operates in opposition to the way the rest of the world uses materials. New directions have started to emerge... We can't leave the shape of the future to politicians and businessmen. Somebody else has to bring input... That’s part and parcel of sculpture today.”

“Anthony Cragg, 12 Sculptures” will be on view until May 15 in front of the Bibliothèque Nationale, quai François Mauriac, 13e, M° Bibliothèque Nationale. And, Tony Cragg's bronze “Profiles” series is also to be seen at Galerie Chantal Crousel to May 17, 40 rue Quincampoix, 4e, tel: 01 42 77 38 87

Cragg’s “Point of view” and “Cast glances”

Anthony Cragg