A very quick stop in Luxembourg on the way to the southernmost tip of Holland had me frog-marching the kids in to MUDAM, the city’s museum of modern art.
We had no idea what would be on, but I knew the building itself would do us some good.
This being a drawing course, I’ve focused on Cragg’s sketches here. Though they are clearly preparation for his sculptures, alongside what he has to say about his work, they are interesting, useful and inspirational – what a bargain for a quick pit stop in Luxembourg!
I’ve taken quotes from what MUDAM calls its mini guide to this exhibition, written by Markus Pilgrim. (The exhibition runs from 11.0.2017 to 03.09.17).
“Although Cragg approaches questions of form and material not unlike a traditional sculptor, he firmly believes that any imaginable material can be a carrier of meaning, imagination and emotions”.
He continues: “Although in recent years he has developed a kind of protocol for form-finding, he sees himself merely as an ‘agent’ who enables forms and their inner energy to come to the fore”. In Cragg’s own words: “Even if it’s nothing linear, things generate something. There is a kind of self-propagating, self-generating energy within the material itself”.
“Drawing, one of his main daily activities, is an essential tool in shaping and creating these sculptures”
From an interview with Markus Pilgrim, and published in the gallery guide:
“Movement is relative. We’re sitting in front of a tree, and it’s not moving. But although it’s simply standing there, it is full of movement, in the leaves, in the trunk – there’s movement everywhere. The same is true for our body, with its three to four trillion cells, where a metabolism takes place, which for me represents an insane movement…And it’s the same with all things, including my works. My works did not come in to being accidentally, in the sense that I let the material run, and at the end it looks good. In my conception, the aim is rather to construct the inner structure of a form, from which the external appearance then derives. It’s not so much about how something looks – I’m not interested in mapping anything. I’m interested in why something looks the way it looks. Because that’s the result of an unimaginable inner dynamic.”
A long quote but something I want to keep in mind when I’m drawing and something that will be helpful to me. To paraphrase Cragg, drawing isn’t about mapping something, it is an investigation in to the core – into the ‘unimaginable inner dynamic’.
This is my favourite drawing. It’s the least disciplined, less obviously the precursor of a sculpture. But I can see Cragg grappling with the ‘insane movement’. I can see how he got lost in this drawing, looking and searching.
Here again, more looking, searching, but he’s discovered a steady rhythm. It’s as if here he has been let in, above he was still looking.
It’s easy to think that the final sculpted object here is a vase. It isn’t, but I don’t think the result matters. What is wonderful is how Cragg has deftly found the movement, it feels as though he is thinking about the material and how it can yield. Perhaps I am simplifying but when I look at this I see clay – and the dynamic way it is moulded. Its shape is constantly shifting, constantly moving. Finally it finds a position and ‘rests’ but it holds the memory of that movement.
Adding a PS here because I came across this Kate Kellaway’s interview just yesterday with Tony Cagg at his exhibition A Rare Category of Objects, Yorkshire Sculpture Park. These comments stood out for me:
People can make anything, but nature has had a long time to make things complicated. If you live in nature, you have a richer vocabulary of forms in your mind.
Everything is material. But the material is so complicated. We’ve no idea what absolute reality looks like. I find that sublime and uplifting. It has a spiritual quality. I’m most interested in the emotional qualities of things. Every emotion has a material basis – run by hormones and nerves. But isn’t that magnificent? This seems to be an extension to his interest and thinking on movement and metabolism (see main post).
Drawing remains essential to you – why?
There are endless ways of joining two spots on paper. Once you move the pencil, it becomes the most complicated, fantastic journey. It’s like modelling with clay where you could – if you were God or good enough – make limitless forms.
You talk about art as a defence against mediocrity?
We use materials to impoverish form. We cut down a forest, make it into a field and, after a while, a car park. We screw up landscapes – everything has been changed by us. But sculpture? Art takes on space, makes new forms, ideas, emotions, languages, freedom. An increasing number of people have a better quality of life because art is in their life. Just think about that.
Reference: Kellaway, K. (2017) Tony Cragg: ’I‘m most interested in the emotional qualities of things’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/05/tony-cragg-sculpture-interview-rare-category-objects?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other (Accessed: 6 March 2017)