‘Making Sculpture – View from the Studio’
A conversation between studio assistants and collaborators chaired by Jenny Dunseath, feat. Olivia Bax, Neil Ayling, Hamish Black and John Wallbank.
(I didn’t take notes until Session 2. However, I am still digesting the gist of what was discussed and will add to this when I have time. It won’t be attributed to any one speaker, however, but will be an overall impression that I was able to glean from the conversations being had on the platform and in the audience about Tony Caro’s working methods in his studio. Very interesting stuff.)
‘Teaching the New Sculpture – Saint Martins in the 60s’
A presentation by Elena Crippa based on her research of the CSM Frank Martin Archive. Followed by a discussion panel including former students and teachers at St Martin’s in the early days: Bill Tucker and Tim Scott – sadly, Phillip King couldn’t make it for health reasons.
Points I found interesting: The first Sculpture class only had 6 full time students – there were a lot more part time students though.
‘The New Generation’ Exhibition 1965 (@ the Whitechapel Gallery)
showed 6 artists, only 3 of whom were from St Martins (and not necessarily students there at the same time as one another), and others who went on to teach there. (I think they said 2 were RCA students and one from the Slade).
Pedagogy of the Sculpture course at St Martin’s at the time:
A fresh perspective on Materials: found objects, industrial and natural, and a leap towards abstraction, but with figuration as it’s basis (not abstraction for the sake of the abstract). Figure drawing lessons continued, but there were also Bauhaus lessons relating to architecture. Armatures, assemblage, welding were commonly used there for making sculpture at St Martin’s, but you had to earn the right to use the basement workshops by making work in clay and plaster from the figure in the upstairs classrooms.
David Smith’s abstract work in NY in the 50s was a huge influence on everyone, especially Caro, but his work was both abstract and figurative.
Performance was used in the sculpture department as a sculpture teaching tool. Situational projects were initiated by Caro and other teachers to stimulate the interaction and communication between the students, to open up their conception about sculpture. Dynamic attempts to find gestures for their sculpture. Breaking with past procedures and function of lectures and studio practices. A lesson might entail students’ making a sculpture using people as elements – sometimes dubbed ‘sculptural phys ed’ – in an attempt to stimulate people’s creativity, help them feel what it was like from the inside of a gesture, but was never intended to make the performative exercises stand in for the work itself. (However, students began to do just that). The point was to reconstruct themselves as objects and relate to each other as objects. Using bodies to define, measure and mark space in relation to one’s body or other bodies. And where movement occurred around and within the space, the idea was that they were Human Mobiles, rather than a performance for the sake of performance. But for Barry Flanagan, Bruce McLean, and Gilbert and George, performance was the thing.
Michael Fried in 1969 talked about Caro’s sculpture being more akin to Rodin figurative gesture rather than pure abstract or decorative works – his sculptures were surrogates of the human figure.
Phillip King, former student of Caro’s, who later taught with him and Edward Paolozzi at St Martin’s, agreed that the sculpture was a substitute for the human presence.
(Apologies if my note taking of the presentation isn’t that thorough or enlightening. More can be researched via CSM documentation in the Frank Martin Archive)
Onto the panel discussion with William (Bill) Tucker & Tim Scott.
Tim was one of the part time students – he took a life class while an architecture student (round the corner at AA), then he went to the sculpture department and he joined in Tony’s classes. These were early days when Tony was still doing figurative work at the time, but trying to transform his own work (influenced by the David Smith show he saw in NY). Caro brought that desire for transformation in his own work into the class/studio, and that ethos about change and experimentation was transferred to the students. He added on a more characterful note that Caro could be quite jolly, but he also could be rather aggressive, trying to cajole students into transforming their conventional ways of looking at figurative models.
Evening classes were mainly taken up by the part timers (who worked during the day), but they developed into ‘experimentation evenings’, to stimulate people into making things differently, using unusual materials, found objects, but also new ways of using the more traditional clay, wax, plaster. But stressed that found objects were very much the fashion in sculpture at the time.
Bill read History at Oxford first, but was also interested in contemporary art, and started going to life classes at the Ruskin (along with Americans on the GI bill). He remembers John Updike was there. Bill would often hitch-hike to London from Oxford to visit the galleries. Holland Park sculpture show ‘1950s/1850s’ (Sculpture 1857-1957) in particular was a big influence – he says he was knocked out by Henry Moore’s ‘Seated Warrior’ (Warrior with Shield, 1953-4) and Liz Frink’s ‘Standing Warrior’ (Warrior, 1957). Back at Oxford, he made figures with clay. He worked from his drawings of the figure rather than live models.
He applied to St Martin’s after finishing Oxford. Principal Morse and Frank Martin were the heads of the school at the time, and Bill says they had a very difficult relationship. Basically, Morse didn’t take him on as a student. He went to Central School instead, but it was at Central that he found out about Caro’s class at St Martin’s and decided to check it out. He found Caro too aggressive and obnoxious, so he stomped out. But then he decided to come back to St Martin’s because he preferred the free access they gave to the welding workshop there, as opposed to Central where you couldn’t use the equipment without going through this whole pain in the neck procedure with getting the key. So this time, Frank Martin took him on. He avoided Caro as much as possible, and stayed downstairs in the welding room with the Israelis (he mentions Buky Schwartz as an example).
Tim had finished his studentship in ’59 and worked in Paris, then came back in ’61. He said when he came back that Basement space was very active with stone carving and welding, etc. He was also very influenced by David Smith’s work, having discovered him at the USI in Paris.
50s & 60s American Paintings were a huge hit in Europe. The European Expressionist modelling was still big at the time, but American Abstract Expressionism changed everything. There was a freeform approach to making work at St Martin’s – a messy aesthetic – found objects, taking a leaf from Picasso’s inventiveness. Caro encouraged that.
Phillip (King) who had worked for Henry Moore, was very private about his work. His sculptures were made and stored in his attic studio of his house in W. Hampstead. Rosebud, & Drift, were completely new experiences of sculpture for the viewer. They were confrontational, due to their human scale, stood on ground, creating an enveloping and intimate experience.
Tim admits that he was influenced by Phillip’s use of wood, and fibreglass rather than metal/steel. (Phillip had discovered fibreglass as a material through boat building – working from the attic meant that weight may have been a factor in deciding to use this material.)
Tim also says: There were no ‘skills’ taught at St Martin’s. If you wanted to do something you had to figure it out for yourself by just doing it.
‘Returning to Early One Morning’
(I didn’t take notes for this so I’ll quote from the booklet)
“Ian Dawson will introduce and discuss a project he led with students from Winchester School of Art (Southampton University) to make a full-size facsimile of Caro’s seminal 1962 sculpture Early One Morning.”
‘The Triangle Workshops’
Chaired by Rebecca Fortnum, who read out from a transcript a conversation between Caro & Robert Loder, within which they talked pedagogy.
Rebecca than said that Caro is often painted as an authoritarian teacher at St Martin’s, but he was very different in the case of the Triangle. Very loose structure – artists representing the US, Canada, UK (making up the triangle of English speaking countries) sharing ideas and techniques, generally having a shot of doing something new artistically. Learning a lot by being alongside someone, in terms of skills, pace, etc, and being more collaborative and communal – most artists complain that after art school, they experience isolation in their separate studios, closed off from one another, behind shut doors – hence the idea for Triangle – they were all makers, together. They felt it was important to have artists talking to other artists, and also to the public –
the exposure to the public and critics was through shows at the end of the workshop period (fortnight) but the purpose was not to network as we do today, but for encouraging/enabling dialogue and testing/measuring the work. http://www.trianglenetwork.org/about
Frances Richardson then talked about her experience of doing the workshops with Triangle. She feels that everyone who attended art school in the UK system will have been influenced by Caro. She personally worked under an African master, making his work as an apprentice/assistant. She met Caro through Robert Loder, who bought a piece of traditional African work that she had a hand in making.
She attended the Mozambique workshop. There were 30 artists, no walls, artists working on top of each other the way Caro believed was best: “Stumbling over each other’s work”.
She found that being in her studio back in London was very isolating, so Robert put her in touch with visiting African artists and she worked with them. She said she had a confrontational (in a good way) relationship with Loder who came right out and asked her, “Why don’t you have a better studio?” She asked him back, “Why don’t you buy a building?” (Triangle didn’t have a permanent building/base at the time) Frances advises artists not to be afraid of the confrontation. “Don’t shy away,” she says. Loder answered, “Go out and find one.” And so she did. And that was the start of Gasworks Studios.
She participated in the Zimbabwe workshop. She said that the dialogues that were happening in S Africa were different than in Mozambique – they were more to do with leadership artists. (I don’t know what she meant by this – I didn’t write it down if she explained further. Sorry. My bad.)
She then told of an encounter with Caro (I don’t know if this was in Zim or Australia – sorry again) She had made a horizontal work that was partly submerged in the ground, and utilised a lot of clay but it wasn’t available to the viewer above ground, and so Caro asked her, “What are you doing? What questions are you asking?” and implied that he was also asking “Why aren’t you asking the same questions as me?” – this questioning of “What are you doing, what are you making, why are you doing it” was echoed in the first session discussion with Caro’s former assistants and collaborators – who were keen to point out that none of them ever wanted to leave his workshop. They did only when they thought they ‘should’ but they always came back if they could! They wanted to work for him forever, so he couldn’t have been as aggressive as all that. They spoke of him with affection and respect – guess he mellowed quite a bit by then, and shook off his Mr Meanie persona of the 60s!)
Excuse the digression. So, after a workshop in Australia, Rebecca realised that she needed a more permanent conversation with other artists than the fortnight model, and in London, rather than abroad, which happened at Gasworks – she says Caro was supportive of her decision to leave Triangle.
She showed us some images of her work, influenced by Caro: something she called ‘sculptural cartoons’ of ibeams (in mdf) that she considers to be drawings – “the object being an idea rather than a thing”. She is interested in the essence of 2D-3D conflict and has also worked in draped concrete canvas.
Anna Best then talked about her own experience of the workshops and later how she used the workshop model and developed it in different ways.
1st workshop was in 91. 2 weeks in NY. She commented on the confrontational and collaborative ethos, or if not collaborative, ‘together atmosphere’, which she found inspiring.
Back in London she was involved in setting up a Bermondsey artist studios,
but it didn’t work because of the long corridor, closed doors and isolation of the artists from one another’s actual practice.
She started (? – or was instrumental in starting?) Shave International, Sommerset. Robert always told her, “The model has to be followed.”
So there were 15 artists for 2 weeks. In the first weekend visitors (artists and art professionals) would be invited to act as a catalyst for people’s work, to provide a bit of distance for crits, and then at end of fortnight, there would be a showing, which was always contested. Not all wanted to show.
Shave International in Somerset happened 4 years in a row, and then with ACE funding & Anna Gibbs in ’97 there was a move to take the workshops elsewhere.
But the emphasis was there, on not having an individual studio, on conversation as integral to the making of work, the social, ‘up-for-grabs-ness’ of everybody’s processes is still very prevalent. Her own practice is a more dematerialised one now, working with people & events, more time-based, incorporating moving image, and relating to place/context – wanting to relate to the site. The preferred model for her is a more sustainable and longer term one. The 2 week bubble of the workshop format was quite frustrating for her practice in the long run.
(And my notes end there. I hope it’s been accurate, and that I haven’t misrepresented or misquoted anything anybody said.)
‘Steel Sculpture After Caro’
(Didn’t take notes for this, so again, I will quote from the booklet)
“Peter Hide, David Evison, Robin Greenwood, three steel sculptors who studied at St. Martin’s, will give short presentations on different sculptures by Caro. Sam Cornish will then chair a discussion on the continuing legacy of his sculpture.”