Tony Cragg b. 1949


The Artist

Private Collection, UK


2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, 17 May - 23 June 2016, cat. no. 20, col. ill. p. 61. 
A life-long interest in science and natural history informed Tony Cragg's artistic practice in multiple facets, including developing a systematic exploration of the possibilities of abstraction in sculpture, similar to Bridget Riley’s project in the optical effects of colour fields in abstract painting. This scientific, rational approach translated into his working methods – adopting an anthropological scheme of classification, Cragg views his series of work as ‘family groups’, which are open and constantly developing.

Rod, 2000, is a monumental late iteration of one such ‘family’ of works, Cragg’s longest running series, Early Forms, begun in the mid-1980s, and the sister series to Rational Beings. Initially derived from the form of chemical vessels inspired by his formational years as a lab assistant, this project expanded to include a multitude of different vessels from the mundane and modern – test tubes, jam jars, detergent bottles – to ancient amphora. A sub-group of crumpled coca-cola cans provided the motif for a marked shižft in the Early Forms group culminating with the casting of Sinbad, 2000, Can-Can, 2000, and Rod, 2000. With a distinct horizontal format, these pieces recall the legacy of Anthony Caro's floor pieces, underscored by Cragg’s colouration of some pieces within the group.

Cast in bronze with a flawless, lustrous, near-black patina, Rod unfolds rhythmically along the length of the structure, rising and falling in loops of bronze. The dynamic between the lež-to-right reading along the straight length and the curves of bronze from side-to-side presents intriguing internal relationships that are revealed through extended scrutiny of Rod over time. Amongst the most stylised, abstracted works within the Early Forms series, Rod is nonetheless redolent of modern machinery yet cast in bronze, a highly traditional material. Originating in the folds of a redundant coke can, Rod is a monumental metamorphosis of the domestic, a tribute to the discarded, the bypassed or forgotten. Suspended between ancient and modern, the useful and the functionless, the mundane and the epic, it is a singularly powerful claim to recognition.