Born in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Tony Carter (1943-2016) was a talented and committed sculptor who was part of the New British Sculpture movement of the 1970s and 1980s. ‘By Bread Only’ takes the form of a painter’s easel with board. Hanging from the board is a metal saucepan, inside of which is etched the head of an angel, a motif Carter borrowed from a Leonardo da Vinci drawing. Spot-lit from above, the pan throws a wing-shaped glow over the white board.
‘By Bread Only’ occupied a fascinating place within the emerging ‘New British Sculpture’ in the early 1980s. The work was reproduced at the end of the catalogue for the British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century survey exhibition, curated by Nicholas Serota and Sandy Nairne, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1981. A year later it concluded the art critic Michael Newman’s championing of the ‘New British Sculpture’ in his Art in America article, called ‘New Sculpture in Britain’. Newman’s article launched a generation of artists - including Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, Bill Woodrow, Anish Kapoor, Jean-Luc Vilmouth, Kate Blacker, Alison Wilding, Anthony Gormley and Shirazeh Houshiary - onto the North American and international scene.
Carter’s work is positioned by the art critic Michael Newman as offering an alternative to the ‘bricolage’ sculpture of Cragg and Woodrow. For Newman, Carter’s ‘By Bread Only’ pointed towards history and art’s histories (Leonardo da Vinci) and the idea that recycled objects used by sculptors in the early 1980s might encourage viewers to think less about ‘art made out of rubbish’ and more metaphysically (through the angel in the saucepan), about the auras and immaterial poetries of material objects and what they might tell us about humanity and our worldly lives. The title, in part, references the New Testament line ‘Man cannot live by bread alone.’
‘By Bread Only’ is a work that is widely known as an image – through photography, through art criticism and art historical literature and through the history of exhibitions – but not very well known as a material object. This exhibition gives viewers the chance to consider it as a sculpture again, opening up new lines of enquiry and appreciation.
This work is, in Carter’s own words, ‘an important waymark in the charting of my course.’ The late 1970s was a period of transition in Carter’s practice, ‘…moving away from the conventions of painting and towards a way of making sculpture which prioritised the image. I am an image maker first and foremost’, he wrote. This work is an assemblage-style art work, made from a combination of found and made components. It comprises easel and board and an engraved saucepan. This part of the work is made specifically light responsive and thus ‘reflected light’ is listed as part of the materials of the work.
Tony Carter arrived at the idea of the bequest of this work to Leeds Museums and Galleries, following discussions with the Henry Moore Institute in 2016 after his work was included in the exhibition Making It: Sculpture in Britain 1977-1986 at Arts Council England’s Longside Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
This gift underlines the generosity of the artist and his wife, Wendy Smith, and their own belief in Leeds Museums and Galleries and their role in the presentation, collection and promotion of British sculpture. The Henry Moore Institute oversees the administration and curatorial development of the sculpture collections of Leeds Museums and Galleries. This partnership has built one of the strongest collections of British sculpture in the country.