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Why Anthony Caro started making abstract sculpture

The sculptor's retrospective opens in Venice this week. In archive interviews, he talks about making 'feeling objects' – and his work being used as a bike rack.

'I swore that I'd never make an abstract sculpture,' says Anthony Caro in this clip from a 1984 BBC programme.

The British artist - widely recognised as one of the world's greatest living sculptors - will turn 90 next year. He made his name when he abandoned figurative art in 1960 to produce large-scale abstract works constructed from steel and displayed directly on the gallery floor.

An exhibition opening this week at the Museo Correr in Venice, to coincide with the Biennale, covers a 50-year period including early drawings influenced by his teacher Henry Moore as well as the welded metal sculptures.

'I remember when my kids were young and I was making big yellow sculptures and they'd go past some road machine and say: "Sculpture, daddy!",' reveals Caro in the archive footage. He pinpoints what separated his work from the machine: 'Mine was intended to be a feeling object.' 

The clip shows one of those big yellow sculptures, Prairie, appearing to hover above the Hayward Gallery floor in his 1969 show alongside key works Early One Morning and Titan.

Outside the gallery, Caro is filmed in a college courtyard engaging with students who were using one of his public sculptures as a bicycle rack - and in a marine scrapyard sourcing materials for a set of works made in the early 1980s. Next to tangled cable, deck hatches and giant anchors, he can be seen chalking marks onto rusting hulks for use in monumental pieces A Soldier's Tale and Alto Rhapsody. 

Marking another shift in approach, they were a departure from his earlier light, tubular pieces - but continued to unite constituent parts in a similar way. Caro has suggested that in his pieces, individual elements often come together like notes in a piece of music.

The sculptor's latest exhibition – a return to Venice after he took part in the Biennales of 1956, 1966 and 1999 –  pays tribute to his constant reinvention.

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