An acclaimed sculptor of his generation, British artist Tony Cragg is known for the stacked appearance of his sculptures and his use of unconventional materials such as plastic and household items. Increasingly working with more traditional mediums such as marble, bronze and steel over recent years, Cragg's sculptures are characterised by the artist's ongoing concern with the relationship between the natural and the manmade.Read More
Born in Liverpool, Cragg garnered attention in the 1980s for his use of found everyday objects and detritus, commonly arranged on the floor or fixed to a wall. For New Stones, Newton's Tones (1978), the artist arranged found plastic objects such as combs, toy shovels, bottle caps and spoons according to colour in a rectangular format on the floor. Similarly using manmade objects to depict natural forms in works such as Leaf (1981) or Bird (1980), Cragg pointed to the impact of human intervention on the world at large.
Working with more traditional media such as bronze for the series 'Early Forms' and 'Rational Beings', Cragg explored sculpture's potential to transform the familiar into something new and unusual. 'Early Forms', begun in the late 1980s, is inspired by one of the earliest manmade objects: the vessel. For the series, Cragg distorts and twists diverse forms of vessels to create new objects. In Taurus (1999), for example, the original vessel is unrecognisable in the monumental bronze sculpture whose smooth planes and curvature instead recall oysters or the waves of the sea. By contrast, the later series 'Rational Beings' is concerned with the transformation of the human figure into abstraction. For A Head, I Thought (2011), Cragg contorted a facial profile until it became a new form of abstracted columns and slabs.
Throughout his career, Cragg has cultivated a tiered appearance to his sculptures. The verticality of his recent works is often reminiscent of Brancusi's columns, while the horizontal ellipses that protrude from the columns recall the multi-faceted figures of Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla. Points of View (2013), a set of three seven-metre columns, seems to change shape when viewed from different angles. Unlike the artist's earlier works such as Minster (1990)—which consists of four sculptural forms but is made of circular metal machine parts amassed into towers—Cragg's recent sculptures are often in one solid piece yet retain a 'stacked' illusion through their horizontal extensions.
Cragg completed his studies at the Wimbledon College of Arts, London (1973) and the Royal College of Art, London (1977). A regular presence in international galleries and museums since the late 1970s, his works have been shown at the Isfahan Museum of Contemporary Art (2018); The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (2016); Benaki Museum, Athens (2015); National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung (2013); and Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2011). In 2017 A Rare Category of Objects—a major retrospective of his long career—was organised by Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Cragg has been recognised for his prolific practice from the early days of his career. He was the winner of the Turner Prize in 1988 and in that same year represented Britain at the 43rd Venice Biennale. In 2002 he was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for service to the visual arts and Anglo-German relations. Cragg has also worked as an educator, teaching at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1999–2009) and at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (2009–ongoing). Cragg has been based in Wuppertal since 1977.
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