A ‘radical materialist’, Cragg defines sculpture as a ‘rare category of objects’, and takes a taxonomic approach to his own practice, something which is reflected in the exhibition. The wit and will to analyse the properties of all of the planet’s resources and use them to make new things is unique to human beings, along with the intuition to sort, order and categorise the things that exist and that we bring into existence.
Cragg’s extraordinary career has its roots in a fascination for, and exploration of, the possibilities of the material world, which he considers to be ‘the huge storeroom [in which] lie the keys to essential processes and explanations of our existence’. Cragg’s artistic practice developed from drawings he made to document experiments whilst working as a lab technician at the National Rubber Producers Research Association (1966–68). He went on to study at London’s Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal College of Art and during two summer vacations worked nightshifts in a foundry that manufactured components for engines. The combination of art and the experience of the physical transformation of materials through industrial processes is the cornerstone of Cragg’s practice.
From the small scale to the monumental, Cragg’s prolific practice is the outcome of a constantly questioning and experimental symbiotic process of thought and manual making, which always starts with drawing. With the support of his studio, Cragg makes his sculptures by hand, each evolution of thought taking form and inspiring the next. His intuition to sort and categorise, evident in his childhood fossil collection, is expressed in the significant early stacked series in which the accumulated content of his studio, including stones, wood, and books, are formed into geological-like sculptures. This important strand of his practice is shared through the extraordinary sculpture Minster, which will greet visitors in the first space of the Underground Gallery.
A new important aspect of Cragg’s work evolved in 1977 when he began to collect plastic objects washed up along the river Rhine, after moving to Wuppertal, Germany, where he continues to live, work and teach at the nearby Kunstakademie, Dusseldorf. This, and other seminal moments, are revealed in the first room of the Underground Gallery. Recent and new sculpture in the huge central gallery and open air reflect the evolution of Cragg’s important career and demonstrate that he is an artist in full command of his chosen discipline.
An academic session produced in collaboration with Dr Jon Wood, Research Curator at the Henry Moore Institute, will coincide with the exhibition. A limited edition and exclusive exhibition merchandise will be available to purchase along with a full colour publication sharing unique insights into Cragg’s career from both an art historical and material science perspective. Recent work by the artist is also on view at Lisson Gallery, across both London locations, from 1 October until 5 November 2016.