Tony Cragg, Bird / Uccello, 1980. Collezione privata, Salerno. In comodato a Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Foto © Amedeo Benestante. | Tony Cragg, Bird, 1980. Private collection., Salerno. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

Tony Cragg (Liverpool, 1949), is one of the most famous and influential contemporary sculptors. In his works the practice of sculpture and research into it are brought together: since the 70s he has worked with different techniques and materials, with wich he produces a universe of forms that epitomizes, through abstraction, the multifariousness of reality and the complexity of human perception and knowledge. His artistic research rests on his studies at Technical High School and then his experience at the laboratories of the National Rubber Producers’ Research Association, where he explored atomic and subatomic phenomena and biochemistry. His fascination with materials and their intrinsic properties become one of the leading themes in all his work, when he decided to get a regular artistic training, first at Wimbledon School of Art between 1973 and 1977 and the Royal College of Art in London. This was the beginning of a long career which was to bring numerous awards, including the prestigious Praemium Imperiale for Sculpture in Japan in 2007.

Characterized by reflection on the primary elements, both textural and structural, Cragg’s work attributes a fundamental role to the relationship between the artwork (whether or an assemblage of found materials), and its setting, elements that the British artist relates to each other so as to suggest states of tension or harmony. Many of his works recover a concern for the fragment, especially in installations made with objects found during his walks and reassembled so as to delineate recognizable figures, including those of his own face (Self-Portraits) and other human silhouettes.
The work Bird, from this period, was exhibited at Lucio Amelio’s gallery in Cragg’s solo exhibition in Naples in 1980. It is one of the finest examples of this “poetic of fragments”, which restores a value to waste, transforming it into the constituent elements of new compositions, midway between painting and sculpture. The assemblage of pieces of driftwood picked up on the beaches, each with a different form and coloring, becomes an almost pictorial proceeding by which the English artist uses material weights and chromatic values already existing to construct the form of a bird. Waste and residual objects are given the same expressive importance as the traditional raw materials of sculpture, which Cragg practices equally with extremely fascinating visual results that take both the materials and techniques to an extreme, as in the bronze sculpture 3D Incident, part of the Madre’s collection and exhibited in the second courtyard of the museum.
3D Incident, realized in 2007, clearly represents the plastic qualities of Cragg’s sculpture in its tension/torsion to recount a metamorphosis in the making. The grandeur of the mass is betrayed by the apparent lightness with which it seems to vibrate and flex before the viewer’s eyes. The balance between voids and solids, and the play of light and shade contribute to offer an ever-changing perception of the work, which requires the viewer to walk around it to appreciate the different incidence of light on its projections and recesses, constituting its formal structure. Abstract in its lines, but concrete in its three-dimensional mass, inanimate as inorganic yet animated by apparent movement, so that it acquires a fleeting and pervasive figuration, the work becomes the live narrative of transformation and regeneration processes which, while belonging to the sphere of the organic, nevertheless seem to portend, against the backdrop of scenarios of technical-cognitive mutation defined by the contemporary digital era, the possibility of their exhilarating yet enigmatic extension even to the sphere of inanimate forms and structures in their impulse towards dynamic relationship, to share and comprehend the space-time of reality with the viewer.