In August 1988, the sculptor Tony Cragg produced his first etchings, spending a little over two weeks at Crown Point Press in San Francisco. During this short time, he completed no fewer than thirty-five editions. Published by Crown Point Press and printed by Mark Callen, their subject matter ranges from laboratory utensils and plastic bottles (as in the Tate examples) to figure groups and landscapes, thus rehearsing the themes already familiar in Cragg's sculpture.
Six Bottles (Large), State 1, print number three in an edition of twenty-five, depicts a row of plastic bleach and washing-up liquid bottles. The motif of the vessel recurs throughout Cragg's work, from Five Bottles on a Shelf in 1980 (private collection) to the giant steel bottles of Bestückung in 1987-88 (private collection). Printed in black and white, the close cropping of the composition imbues the objects with a strength and monumentality not usually associated with such mundane, disposable objects. Pockmarked during the printmaking process by acid burns and blisters, their pitted surfaces recall the rough craters of eroded rock. An informal line-up of plastic ephemera thus takes on the appearance of a monolithic rock formation, thus collapsing the polarity between nature and culture. Cragg has long been fascinated by the symbiotic relationship between civilization and the natural world. Insisting that what we call the 'natural world' is increasingly man-made, Cragg has said that he 'refuse[s] to distinguish between the landscape and the city', adding that man-made objects are 'fossilized keys to a past time which is our present' (quoted in Tony Cragg, pp.26-28).
Cragg seeks to build a 'poetic mythology' for the industrially produced objects of our time and the lowly plastic bottle has featured frequently in this quest. In 1992, he said:
I see a material or an object as having a balloon of information around it.
Materials like wood already have a very occupied balloon. The objects of our
industrial society as yet have very little information attached to them, so even if
something like plastic can be accepted as a valid material for use, it still remains
very unoccupied. There is a lot of work to be done to actually make a mythology
for this material, over and above its extremely practical and utilitarian value.
Susan Tallman, 'Laboratory Still Lives: 35 Prints by Tony Cragg', Arts Magazine, vol.63, February 1989, pp.17-18, reproduced p.17.
'Prints and Photographs Published', The Print Collector's Newsletter, vol.19, January-February 1989, p.228.
Tony Cragg: Sculpture 1975-90, exhibition catalogue, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach 1990.