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A material world: exploring the sculptures of Tony Cragg

British artist Tony Cragg is one of the most acclaimed artists of his generation.

Emerging in the 1970s, Cragg’s bold practice has consistently questioned and tested the limits of the materials used in traditional sculpture; bronze, steel, glass, wood and stone. “I’m an absolute materialist, and for me material is exciting and ultimately sublime”, he said. For Cragg, the physicality and composition of his materials are of immense importance and ultimately guide the form of his final artworks. The symbiotic dialogue Cragg has with such materials acts in opposition to the “world of boring and repetitive forms” and “simple geometries” commonplace in modern industry. Cragg asserts that different materials produce different emotional experiences, both for the artist and the observer. He makes us aware that the word ‘material’and ‘materia’ originate from the Latin word for ‘mater’ or ‘mother’ – a being who brought us into existence, sustains and nourishes us, and who is ultimately owed great respect. 

Tony Crag, Stack, 1975

 From an early age, Cragg showed a keen interest in science and natural history, gaining work experience in laboratories throughout his adolescence and working as a lab technician as a young adult. In his early works, he used discarded construction materials and household materials to produce impossibly perfect stacked works. The most important piece in this period, Stack (1975) now forms part of Tate Modern’s permanent collection and consists of multiple miscellaneous objects, ranging from building materials to old newspapers- all stacked into a perfect cube. These works present Cragg’s taxonomical understanding of the world, he has said that he sees manmade objects as “fossilized keys to a past time which is our present”. In the 1980s Cragg continued working with familiar objects, instead arranging them in two dimensions. In Britain Seen from the North (1981), Cragg arranged objects in the shape of Great Britain alongside a human silhouette, all made up of household objects. Typically for Cragg, the work consists of many individual objects, arranged to form a larger image, hence exploring the 'relationship of the part to the whole' – an idea derived from particle physics.

Tony Cragg, Britain Seen from the North, 1981

 In 1998 Cragg was selected to represent Britain at the 43rd Venice Biennale in 1998 and won the Turner Prize in the same year. In 2002 he was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2002 and in 2007 he received the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture of the Imperial House of Japan. Tony Cragg’s works are held in major museum collections around the world including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. amongst others.

 Tony Cragg, Points of View, 2007

 

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