In 1985 Anthony Caro visited Greece where he saw classical art in its original context for the first time. According to the artist it was a revelatory experience: 'The light and the temples sited in their landscape made me see Greek art in a completely different way from studying photographs; the art and the history belong together. For me the most wonderful are the archaic sculptures, and also the pediments and metopes of Olympia. Instead of the separate sharded parts, that I knew from my studies, I now saw the sculptures more as they were originally conceived - sensual rolling forms and figures contained and even forced into strict architectural shapes. The contrast of the volumetric moving forms is set against the crisp and geometric.' (Quoted in Moorhouse, p.25.)
Scamander, one of the first works Caro began on his return to London, reflects an interest in the relationship between classical sculpture and architecture. The massive sections of contorted steel rise up into a loosely triangular or pedimental form. The contrast between these writhing elements of metal encased within a notional pediment corresponds closely with Caro's appreciation of the classical counterpoint of fluid sculpture and geometric architecture. Appropriately the title refers to the river god Scamander with whom in classical mythology Achilles fought. According to Dieter Blume the work also refers formally to the lion-reliefs in two limestone pediment fragments in the Acropolis Museum, Athens.
Caro's interpretation of classical art in terms of melodious formal contrasts is consistent with the abiding aesthetic of counterpoint in his work. The exploration of exterior plane and interior space undertaken in such sculptures of the early 1980s as The Soldier's Tale (Tate T07330) continues in Scamander. For example, as the viewer moves around the sculpture the opened out internal spaces of the cylindrical shapes are continuously contrasted by flat planes of metal. Similarly there is a constant play between the relative weight of each element; the I beam, for example, seems heavy and intransigent whereas the twisted sheets of steel seem relatively light and soft.
The sculpture's coherence is achieved partly by the complex arrangement of these various elements along a horizontal axis and partly by the uniform rusting of the steel, which Caro has preserved with a layer of varnish. In contrast to the bright colours of such works from the 1960s as Yellow Swing (Tate T00799), which made the large metal sections seem almost weightless, the subdued monochrome finish of Scamander emphasises the material weight of the steel elements. As with The Soldier's Tale Caro has used pieces of metal found in the marine scrapyards of Chatham, Portsmouth and Rochester.
Paul Moorhouse, Anthony Caro: Sculpture towards Architecture, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991, reproduced p.26, fig.25
Dieter Blume, Anthony Caro: catalogue raisonné vol.VI, Cologne 1987,p.21, reproduced pp.123 and 172, cat.no.1806