30th July 2011 — 6th November 2011
Waaaaay more impressive in reality than any of the images would suggest, the work of Tony Cragg really comes alive when seen up close. The lithographs and drawings writhe beneath the surface ofthe paper and the sculptures teeter with an energy which struggles against the physical confines of the materials which bind and shape them.
Sparked by his early career as a lab technician in a rubber factory, Cragg’s intense curiosity with the malleability of material and form is evident throughout his artistic output; be it the reconfiguration of readymade, discarded materials in his early works (Britain Seen From the North, 1981), or the alchemy of the casting process revealed here in the First Era aquatints of 1991. This exhibition is a tribute to that obsession. Here the monolithic forms reveal an inner life, a playfulness and an implied state of flux whilst acknowledging and emphasising their solidity, weight, monumentality and physical make-up. It is this conflicting harmony of groundedness and implied motion which is perhaps their greatest achievement.
The structures and substances of Rational Beings in particular, are tested to their limits. Impossibly stacked and stretched, intriguingly balanced, the pieces seem to breathe and pulse on the brink of collapse or implosion. The Rational Beings irrationally trapped in their bronze, stone, wood or steel casings emerge and contract as you move around them; sometimes revealing their facial features, sometimes denying them. Personally, I think the bronze and steel pieces in this series work best, for the bronze conveys a fabulous illusion of plasticity; appearing almost like melting vinyl, while the reflectivity of the steel elicits another dimension to the work; your own image receding and warping as you move around the sculpture, whose form simultaneously appears to be doing the same from the inside.
This sense of shifting form and movement is also prevalent in the drawings exhibited here. Full of squiggles and crisscrossing forms, there is a frantic-ness to these molecular layers and counter-layers which both reflects Cragg’s interest in the composition of the materials he uses and the possibility of their reforming to find something different with every new configuration.
The second half of the exhibition includes the latest additions to Cragg’s Early Forms series. These geometric vessels invite you to move around them, peer into their nooks and crannies and to marvel at the substances from which they are made. You want to touch them, poke them, trace the grains of the stone or the hollows of the plaster. Their physicality and presence is so strong and yet their forms seem fluid and organic. Staring into the crevice of Outspan (2008) is like looking into a giant yellow ear and imagining the ridges, tunnels, cavities and possibilities of the human form, while the monumentally beautiful Crystal (2000) entices you to lose yourself in the grain of the wood and the swirling patterns of the material as you circle round its towering form. The setting is perfect. The grounds and high ceilings of the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art allow space and movement around the works, as well as giving them space to breathe, both of which are vital to our appreciation of these marvellous forms.