Date of Birth: 28 September 1938, North Carolina, US
Birth Name: Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson
Nicknames: Ben E King, Ben Nelson
Ben E King was one of the senior figures of soul music, having made his mark in the 1960s first as the lead singer of the Drifters and later with solo hits such as Spanish Harlem and, pre-eminently, Stand By Me.
The Drifters originally enjoyed considerable success in the mid-1950s when led by Clyde McPhatter, but after he left the band their fortunes declined and the remaining members fell out with their manager, George Treadwell, the former husband of Sarah Vaughan the jazz singer. In 1958, Treadwell, who owned the rights to the group’s name, abruptly sacked the entire line-up and replaced them with an up-and-coming outfit named the Five Crowns, one of whom was King.
The new Drifters toured for a year to a poor reception from audiences loyal to the earlier group, but their fortunes changed in mid-1959 when they recorded a song co-written and sung by King, There Goes My Baby. Produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it was the first R&B track to feature orchestration, and reached No 2 in the Hot 100. Its sophisticated, Latin sound became the group’s signature and propelled them to renewed popularity.
Other hits quickly followed, notably Save The Last Dance For Me, but then in 1960 King quarrelled with Treadwell over an increase in pay his contract gave him only £64.19 a week, however many concerts the band did, and no share of record royalties. He, too, therefore, left the Drifters and was replaced by Rudy Lewis, who went on to sing on the group’s later hits, including Up On The Roof and On Broadway. (Lewis, however, choked to death on the morning that they were due to record perhaps their best-remembered song, Under the Boardwalk, and had to be replaced by former member Johnny Moore.)
Having gone it alone, King teamed up again with Leiber and Stoller and in one afternoon recorded both the songs that were to be the cornerstone of the remainder of his career. Spanish Harlem, co-produced by Phil Spector, reached No 10 in the British charts (which were always receptive to King’s clear baritone) in March 1961.
Three months later he released Stand By Me. “It’s a love song, it’s a friendship song, it’s a song where you promise anybody in need to do anything you can to help,” King said. It reached No 4 in America.
Both songs helped to steer R&B away from its blues roots towards a more pop sound, and served as a template for the later work of both Spector and Motown, whose stars were soon to replace King in the public’s fickle affections.
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, North Carolina, on September 28 1938. His first exposure to music was in a church choir, but in 1947 his family moved to Harlem, where he soon began singing doo-wop on street corners with three friends from school. They called themselves the Four Bs for Ben, Billy, Billy and Bobby. King later married Betty, the sister of Billy and Bobby.
After he did well in a talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Ben Nelson (as he was called until he began his solo career) was offered a place in the Moonglows, a well-known group of the time, but he found the pressure too great and returned to working in his father’s restaurant. There he was spotted singing by the manager of the Five Crowns, and persuaded to return to the stage.
Following his heyday in the early Sixties, King’s star gradually declined, with Don’t Play That Song (1962) being his last substantial hit in America, although his two best-known numbers were revived with great success in the 1970s, first by Aretha Franklin, who took Spanish Harlem to No 2 in the US chart, and then by John Lennon, who covered Stand By Me in 1975.
By that time King had been reduced to playing the veterans circuit (and to appearing on the Genesis LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and it was while performing in a Miami hotel that he was spotted by Ahmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic, his former record label. Ertegun was impressed once more by King’s voice, re-signed him, and helped him to score a Top 5 hit in the disco era with Supernatural Thing Part 1 (1975).This revival of King’s career proved to be short-lived, however, and he had to wait another decade until he once more returned to the limelight.
This came courtesy of the use of Stand By Me as the theme song to Rob Reiner’s 1986 film of the same name (based on a coming-of-age story by Stephen King). When the song was re-released that year, the single reached No 9 in the American charts, 25 years after its first placing there.
The track did even better in Britain the following year when it was used in a Levi’s television commercial, on the back of which it climbed to No 1 and exposed a generation of teenagers to classic American soul. Its success led to King recording a series of LPs in the 1990s, although there proved to be little demand for them.
Nevertheless, he continued to tour regularly, occasionally with various versions of the Drifters, finding a steady audience for his highly polished renditions of some of pop’s finest moments.
Date of Birth: 25 December 1954, Walthamshow, London, UK
Birth Name: Chris Bracey
Chris Bracey was a fluorescent tube artist known as “the master of glow”, whose exuberant neon artworks gave a sleazy aura to numerous Soho sex shops, featured as props in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and were collected by sundry “celebs”.
Bracey was also a collector in his own right, running a studio-cum-warehouse called God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow, which housed one of the biggest collections of kitchy neon signs and sculptures outside America. The collection included vintage fair and carnival signs, girlie show promos and original pieces made on site.
Bracey’s 40-year career saw him transform neon signage into an art form. His commissions included a giant neon “Aladdin Sane” lightning bolt for the 2013 V&A Bowie exhibition; a neon “Roc Nation” sign for Jay-Z’s record label; and, for Kate Moss, a £100,000 hot pink artwork of her own name. For the rapper Professor Green, he created Saint and Sin, a 160 cm square neon sculpture featuring a pair of open legs at the bottom, and an angel in a cloud at the top.
Last year, he had staged his first solo exhibition, I’ve Looked Up to Heaven and Been Down to Hell, at Scream in London, to which visitors were greeted by a giant neon dagger appearing to burst on to the street through the windows of the gallery, and which featured a collection of works playing on religious iconography, including The Hands of God, a life-size statue of Jesus, clutching a pair of neon pistols.
“Neon has a soul, it lives at night creating poetry with light, promising love in Soho or hot bagels all night,” Bracey reflected.
Christopher Bracey was born on Christmas Day 1954 in Walthamshow where his father, a former miner from south Wales, had established his own signmaking business, Electro Signs, working mainly for fairgrounds and amusement arcades.
Bracey learnt to work with the glass tubes and gases at an early age and, after studying at art college and a stint at a Soho graphics agency, he joined the family business. The Soho landlord Paul Raymond became his first customer, commissioning a light for his Revuebar. The result, promising “Girls Girls Girls” set the tone for other commissions in the district such as “Love Upstairs”. “I did 99 percent of every sex establishment in Soho for 20 years,” Bracey told the BBC last year.
Bracey got his first opportunity to move away from selling sex when the art director for the film Mona Lisa (1986) saw him putting up a sex shop sign and asked him to do the neon for the film, which is set in the Soho underworld. This led on to commissions for Superman III, whose Oscar winning set director Peter Young introduced him to Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton. His neon artworks appeared alongside Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut, Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Jack Nicholson in Batman. Other credits included Blade Runner, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale, Dark Knight, and Byzantium.
A visit to a Bruce Nauman exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1997, opened Bracey’s eyes to the artistic possibilities of neon tubing. He ghost-created Martin Creed’s white neon sign The Whole World + The Work = The Whole World, that lit up the front of Tate Britain in 2000 and, ith David LaChapelle he created Vegas Supernova, a set of pole-dancing and plastic surgery-themed window displays at Selfridges in 2005.
Date of Birth: 23 October 1969
Birth Name: John Robetson
Nicknames: King Robbo
King Robbo, who has died aged 44, was one of the founding fathers of London’s graffiti scene but came to wider attention in 2010 when he was involved in a feud with the street artist Banksy.
Creating images on private or public property is for the most part illegal, whether they are the work of graffiti writers who use spray-paint, “tagging” or “bombing” their names, or of “street artists” such as Banksy, who commonly uses stencils to produce representational images on walls. Graffiti writers like Robbo paint only for their peers, while Banksy paints for a much wider audience. The two camps are more rivals than allies.
Robbo, who stood 6ft 8in tall, had begun his career as a graffiti writer in his teens. In 1985, at the age of 15, he had sprayed ROBBO INC on to a wall under a canal bridge in Camden, north London. Twenty-five years later Banksy used the same site to create a series of four stencilled works, in the process obliterating part of Robbo’s original. Banksy’s image showed a workman applying what looked like wallpaper, but was essentially what remained of Robbo’s piece.
A Banksy (left), and the image as transformed by Team Robbo
London’s graffiti writers interpreted this is an act of disrespect towards one of their own. Robbo was by now long “retired”, and working as a cobbler in King’s Cross. But he was sufficiently offended, and on Christmas morning 2009 he decided to act. The wall in question was accessible only from the canal, so he dressed in a wet suit, approached the wall by means of an inflated air mattress, and got to work. Banksy’s workman, instead of applying wallpaper, was now painting the words: KING ROBBO. Robbo went on to alter all four Banksys along the canal, signing them “Team Robbo” (a reference to those who thought of Robbo as the King of London graffiti and were firmly on his side in the war against Banksy).
Other, similar, incidents followed. One of Banksy’s best-known works an image of three children hoisting a Tesco bag “flag” on the side of an Islington chemist’s shop was altered so the plastic bag bore the
tag “HRH King Robbo”.
For his part, Banksy denied painting over Robbo’s work: “I painted over a piece that said 'mrphfgdfrhdgf’. I find it surreal when graffiti writers get possessive over certain locations. I thought that having a casual attitude towards property ownership was an essential part of being a vandal.”
Robbo and Banksy had met one another in the late 1990s in an East London bar, and according to Robbo it was not a happy encounter. He told Will Ellsworth-Jones, author of Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall: “He was nothing at the time. And I said 'Hello, I’ve seen your name about although I hadn’t and he went... 'I don’t know who you are’... So I went bang and give him a backhander. I said 'You might not have heard of me, but you’ll never ******* forget me, will you?’... He was being disrespectful.” Banksy denied that this incident ever took place.
In the tradition of graffiti writers, Robbo opted for anonymity. He was born John Robertson on October 23 1969 into a working-class family in London. As a teenager he was a skinhead and football hooligan: “I used to hang out with the big boys and they used to write their names on walls,” he later said. “They’d always put an 'o’ on the end to let people know they were skinheads. That’s why I became Robbo.”
After he was expelled from school he went to work at his uncle’s building firm; by night, he painted graffiti: “My parents couldn’t understand why I did it. Why do it if there’s no money in it? I couldn’t explain to them that it was my passion for creating art. It was like a dopamine fix, all that adrenaline... I ended up [in 1984] doing a big piece just near [what is now] the Emirates Stadium, just under the bridge on Hornsey Road. I was as bold as brass. It said 'The Master Robbo’ with a Ghostbuster character and a big splat! It was really big.”
During a brief spell at a school in Northamptonshire (his fellow pupils “were all skinheads and mods on Lambrettas”), he started a graffiti crew called The Artmasters, and on his return to London he pursued his developing passion for “train writing”, which had the added attraction of making his work mobile and thus widely seen as tube trains travelled around the city: “I used to go maybe four-five nights a week to the train yard, as much as I could. I went back to using straight letters, New York style, so when the train went past at 40mph you could still read the Robbo... When it’s pitch dark and there are people trying to chase you, you hone your skills really fast. It’s the best art college I could have gone to.” Despite the efforts of the transport police, he claimed never to have been arrested, and he was soon a celebrity in the graffiti community.
Will Ellsworth-Jones recounts how Robbo and some of his fellow writers painted the tube trains at Aldgate East Underground station on Christmas Day 1988 (Christmas Day was a prime time for graffiti, since the rest of the world’s attention was elsewhere): “Robbo... did a recce of the station... locked up a ladder near the spot ready for when they needed it [and] packed a little boom box in his rucksack to provide the music while they painted... One by one they climbed over a high wall from the street, down the ladder, now extended, that Robbo had retrieved and on to the train roof. From the roof they were swiftly down beside the tracks. The CCTV cameras were put out of action, and then the train was all theirs. They chose a carriage each and went to work.” Robbo had even thought to bring along a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne.
By the early Nineties, however, the police were increasingly cracking down, and Robbo decided to get out: “I had achieved what could be achieved. I was quite happy to take the back seat and live another life.”
Over the past five years, the graffiti writers have started to enjoy a measure of commercial appeal, and Robbo too was tempted by this development. His work has been shown at four exhibitions, including at the Pure Evil and Signal galleries in London. One of his pieces was offered at £12,000.
In 2011 he was returning to his London flat when he apparently fell, suffering a serious head injury; he went into a coma from which he never emerged. The graffiti writing community rallied round to raise funds for his care. An auction raised £30,000 from donated works, and a sale of his own pieces later raised another £28,000.
Date of Birth: 6 September 1935, La Tronche, Grenoble, France
Birth Name: Isabelle Collin Dufresne
Nicknames: Ultra Violet
Isabelle Dufresne, the French artist, actress and muse, who was better known to Warhol acolytes as Ultra Violet, one of his entourage during the late 1960s.
Arriving in New York at the age of 16 , Isabelle swiftly found her niche as a socialite in the art world, befriending and bedding the likes of John Graham and Salvador Dali. In 1963 the latter introduced her to Warhol while they were having tea at the St Regis hotel.
Isabelle initially mistook the 35 year-old Warhol with his slight frame, wispy voice and synthetic nylon wig for a woman. “He said, 'Let’s do a movie together’,” she recalled. “I said, 'Fine, when?’ He said, 'tomorrow’.” The next morning she arrived at The Factory, Warhol’s studio on 47th Street, which was then the gathering place for his “superstars” a motley retinue of young artists, musicians, misfits and assorted hangers-on, all eager for their fabled 15 minutes in the spotlight.
The years that followed were Warhol’s most prolific as a director. Between 1963 and 1968 he made more than 60 films, most of them shot without budget, editing or script, and starring his superstars. Among them was Isabelle Dufresne, rechristened Ultra Violet, who would feature in some 17 films in total.
When in character as Ultra Violet, Isabelle coloured her hair deep purple, tinting her lips with fresh-cut beetroot. She immersed herself in the wild counterculture of the Factory, vividly depicted in her fictionalised 1988 memoir Famous for 15 Minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol. Police made frequent raids on the building, acting on scandalised reports of what went on at the “dark end” of the loft. Isabelle Dufresne herself described it as a scene of “needles, sodomy, handcuffs, beatings, chains”. Warhol, she recalled, maintained an aura of detachment throughout.
Beneath it all, however, there lay a desperate thirst for publicity, to the exclusion of any personal considerations. It was a thirst that Ultra Violet, then a self-confessed exhibitionist, understood. One of the most disturbing passages in her book described the fallout from the “disaffected superstar” Valerie Solanas’s murder attempt on Warhol in 1968. On the morning of June 3, Valerie walked into Warhol’s new Union Square Factory and shot him twice in the chest. Warhol recovered, only to complain that the successful assassination of Robert Kennedy three days later usurped his place in the spotlight.
By 1973 Isabelle Dufresne had distanced herself from the Warhol scene . Following a brush with death due to an ulcerated colon, she came out in condemnation of the unchecked drug-use, egotism and staged orgies that had characterised her life over the previous decade. Plagued by recurring nightmares of an inhuman, “hologram” Warhol, she denounced his art as “repetitive” and “empty”, and found solace in her born-again Christian faith.
Later, Isabelle would credit her conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints with saving her from the unhappy fates that befell several of Warhol’s acolytes. In the two years prior to her break from the artist, fellow “superstar” Andrea Feldman had committed suicide by jumping from her family’s apartment window; while Edith “Edie” Sedgwick, whose cousin Paulita later directed Ultra Violet for her final screen appearance in Blackout (1994), had died of a barbiturate overdose at the age of 28. “I survived by grace alone”, she told an interviewer.
Isabelle Collin Dufresne was born on September 6 1935 in La Tronche, France, into a family of strict Catholic faith. Her father Paul was a wealthy investor and manufacturer. Sent to a convent school upon the outbreak of war, she was ejected as a teenager for rebellious behaviour. Reform school followed and a period studying art in Grenoble, after which her exasperated parents dispatched her to live with her older sister in New York.
Upon her first visit to the Factory, Isabelle soon to be Ultra Violet was immediately taken by Warhol and his art. An early attempt to seduce him on a fire escape ended in an unseemly tussle as Warhol tried to break free of her embrace. “I thought he was afraid of heights”, she recalled mournfully, “but I realised he was afraid of me.”
She also appeared, in 1967, in a staging of Pablo Picasso’s surreal play Desire Caught by the Tail; it proved ill-fated, however, as the production was greeted with such hostility at its premiere in St Tropez that the director Jean-Jacques Lebel was forced to leave town with cast and crew. Later she made a brief foray into mainstream films with Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978).
She continued to work as an artist under the name Ultra Violet for the rest of her life, with a 2006 solo show at the Stefan Stux Gallery in Manhattan and a mirror installation, entitled Self Portrait, in 2012. Three of her sculptures created in response to the World Trade Center attack currently reside in the permanent collection of the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Date of Birth: February 5 1940, Chur, Swiss Canton, Graubünden, Switzerland
Birth Name: Hans Rudolf Giger
Nicknames: HR Giger
HR Giger, was a painter, sculptor and set designer and the man responsible for the nightmarish, teeth-snapping, acid-dripping creature in the film Alien.
Set in a nearish-future, Alien tells the story of a relentless and apparently unkillable life form that terrorises Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the rest of the crew of the spaceship Nostromo. Vaguely humanoid, with a prominent, armoured skeleton, vicious dual sets of jaws and slashing tail, the hellish creature captivated audiences and helped make Ridley Scott’s picture both a critical and box-office success. As the director himself noted, Giger’s creature was “one of the best all-time monsters”. In its absence, he suggested, “I’ve got a nice, very well-acted, beautifully art-directed movie, but I ain’t got that f------ heart-stopping son of a b----.”
Yet it was not just the alien that Giger designed he fleshed out the creature’s life-cycle (which involved it forcefully implanting itself in host bodies) and developed for it a crepuscular, disturbingly erotic environment that fused elements of the natural and the mechanical. Blending elements of Surrealist and Futurist art, Giger’s world soon became instantly recognisable. It turned out that such representations were deeply rooted in his upbringing.
Hans Rudolf Giger was born on February 5 1940 in Chur in the Swiss Canton of Graubünden. By the time he was 12 he was studying the works of Salvador Dali and Hieronymus Bosch with a sort of fascinated horror. “I was terrified,” he said. “I connected them with World War II atrocities.” He was long gripped by nightmares.
His father, a chemist, tried to steer Hans away from art towards a more stable profession. Yet his mother, Melli, encouraged him. In 1962 Giger moved to Zurich to study Industrial Design. After graduating he found that his work, and its obsession with sex and death, was not always appreciated. One gallery owner, hosting a Giger exhibition, reported having to begin each day by wiping the spittle of disgusted patrons from his window. Nor did Giger alleviate local suspicion by dressing always in black and working only at night. But it was precisely his fascination with the occult, and in particular the fictional Necronomicon, or “book of the dead”, described in the work of HP Lovecraft, that propelled him into the big time.In 1977 Giger’s first collection of drawings, also titled Necronomicon, was published. It found its way into the hands of Ridley Scott, who seized upon one fantastical sketch, Necronom IV, as the model for his new film’s alien. Fox Studios was not so keen on the phallic, fetishised image, but Giger was eventually hired influencing the entire look and feel of the film. As a result he won, with others, the Oscar for best special effects in 1980.
Yet it was not the beginning of a beautiful relationship with Hollywood. Giger was not asked to work on the film’s sequel, Aliens (1986). And when he did contribute to films, such as Poltergeist II, he hated his designs being modified. But he had a clear brand. When producers were casting around for someone to create a sexy yet lethal humanoid alien, called Sil, in Species (1995) they knew where to turn. “We realised that he [Giger] had been drawing Sil for basically his entire career,” noted the director Roger Donaldson. “Anybody else we hired would probably have just gone to take a look at his books.”
Beyond film, Giger was also famed for his album covers. His artwork for the Dead Kennedys’ album Frankenchrist led to the band’s singer being arrested for obscenity, but Giger’s vision of an impaled Debbie Harry on her 1981 album Koo Koo fared better, making a list of the best 100 album covers of all time.
Generally, however, his work did not win the admiration of mainstream critics. Undaunted, in 1998 he bought a chateau in Gruyeres and set up his own museum. But it proved expensive to run. He himself lived in far more modest circumstances, with every available surface covered by his drawings. Even after the success of the Alien films, he declared that what he most feared were his debts.
Date of Birth: 15 August 1920, Mariampole, Lithuania
Birth Name: Natascha Sliviskas
Nicknames: Eva Tovarich
Eva Tovarich, was a post-war circus artiste who balanced Big Top drama with power and ingenuity in an act billed as “The World’s Greatest Equilibrists”.
As one of the foundations of The Tovarich Troupe, she entertained audiences in variety theatres and circuses across Britain, Europe and America, from the late 1940s through to the mid-1970s. Equilibrism involves performers balancing on props or, as often was the case in the Tovarich act, the bodies of their fellow acrobats. Each member then fits together into a towering human scaffold. It is a precarious art, to which Eva’s statuesque figure was well suited.
Her husband, Joe, was the troupe’s founder and linchpin, while Eva Tovarich was the “bearer” the person who lifted the other members into the air.
She proved a formidable and striking presence in the circus ring: “A marvellous physique, tall and large-boned, with not a hint of fat,” judged one Bertram Mills Circus employee. “So elegant and graceful, yet strong.”
Natascha Slivinskas (professionally known as Eva Tovarich) was born August 15 1920 in Mariampole, Lithuania. Her father was a miner who brought the family to Hamilton, Scotland. It was there that she later met Joseph “Joe” Slivinski, whose Russian family had gone into exile following the 1917 revolution. Joe formed the Zarovs, an acrobatic group, before creating the family act and, post-war, The Tovarich Troupe moved from the Blackpool Tower Circus to the famous Bertram Mills arena after being spotted by Cyril Mills, son of the circus’ eponymous founder.
To begin with their performances included Joe’s three sons from his first marriage. Later, Eva performed with two of the couple’s daughters in an all-female aerial act under the name “Eva, Toots and Eva”. Two of the sons went on to form The Two Harvards, a comedy routine performed on ice skates. In various incarnations the family performed at the Belle Vue Circus, Manchester (1955-56), the Boswell’s Circus in South Africa (1961), the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth (1964) and with the Cirque Pinder in France (1965). In 1967 they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in America.
The couple retired in the mid-1970s and settled in Benidorm, where Joe Slivinski died in 1992. Four years later tragedy struck when armed intruders broke into their villa. Their son, Jan Juri, was murdered and Eva Tovarich was left in a coma. However, with a constitution fortified by a career under the canvas of the world’s greatest circus tops, she recovered from her injuries and continued to live in Spain for the rest of her life.
Date of Birth: 8 March 1924, New Malden, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Anthony Alfred Caro
Nicknames: Anthony Caro
Britain's finest sculptor since Henry Moore, who broke new ground with his abstract works in metal
The career of Anthony Caro, was so enduring and substantial that it long seemed part of our permanent British art landscape. We are good at that ignoring our best artists until we can take them for granted. There was a short period, at the start of the 1960s, when his new work drew a lot of attention, at a time when British art was erupting with new energies and optimism: St Ives going strong, plus situation painting, pop art, op art. By the mid-60s he was firmly established. His work was being shown, discussed and beginning to be bought on both sides of the Atlantic.
He had had an exhibition of new work at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1963, and he was teaching at St Martin's School of Art. Thus, in 1965, New Generation at the Whitechapel featured sculpture done mostly by people who had studied under him or were teaching with him. He was now chef d'école to a degree that no sculptor had ever been in Britain and no sculptor anywhere since Rodin. On the other hand, though he did cause a lot of young sculptors to make abstract sculpture in welded steel, his example led others to find their own methods and idioms, even to reject formal sculpture altogether for example, the young Barry Flanagan, Bruce McLean and the Gilbert and George partnership.
By rights, Caro should have been made president of the Royal Academy. Abstract art still riles Britain's cultural upper crust, but major abstract artists have been academicians for some years. Caro could well have stood at their head; some of his best artist friends are among them. But he stayed out until 2004, the year the presidency of his former pupil Phillip King ended. There was always a private side to the man, for all the calls of international fame. The work came out of intimate thought and doing, not out of polemics. One feels it was centred on his family life as much as in the potency that made him decide to be a sculptor, not an engineer.
He was born in New Malden, south-west London, the youngest of the three children of Alfred Caro, a stockbroker who had married his distant cousin Mary Rose. At Charterhouse school, Surrey, his interest in sculpture was encouraged by a housemaster who introduced him to the sculptor Charles Wheeler, later president of the RA. Young Caro worked with him in the holidays, learning the traditional methods of sculpture. He studied engineering at Christ's College, Cambridge, from 1942 to 1944 and got his degree, but still worked at sculpture in the vacations, studying at Farnham Art School, Surrey, followed by two years in the Fleet Air Arm.
By 1946 the die was cast. He went to study full time at Regent Street Polytechnic (now part of the University of Westminster) and the Royal Academy schools, becoming well grounded in traditional techniques and materials and in the aesthetics of ancient and medieval sculpture. Medals and other awards came his way in 1948 and 1949. That year he married a fellow student, the painter Sheila Girling, with whom he had two sons, Timothy, born in 1951, and Paul, born in 1958.
Their mutual professional criticism was important to both their careers. The best room at the 2009 summer show of the Royal Academy had Erl King, a grand metal sculpture by Caro, opposite a glowing abstract painting by Girling. Two years earlier, at Roche Court sculpture park, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, the couple had shown together for the first time in their marriage: he with a dozen huge, rusted steel pieces from the series called Flats, made in 1974 in Canada with the aid of a crane; she indoors with a sequence of vibrantly coloured canvases painted with architectural forms not far distant from Caro's.
In late 1959 Caro visited the US, talked with the critic Clement Greenberg and became friends with painters such as Kenneth Noland and Helen Frankenthaler. He also saw constructed sculpture by David Smith, whom he got to know well in 1963.
Back in London, in 1960, he bought welding equipment and scrap metal and completed his first abstract sculpture. It seemed he had undergone a Pauline conversion. His previous work had been modelled, like most of Henry Moore's, for whom he worked part-time from 1951 to 1953. In the later 1950s he had incorporated stones in his clay figures before casting them in bronze, unlovely but powerful forms that seemed expressionist but had more to do with bodily sensations of weight and energy than with emotions. These figures attracted attention, and in 1959 he won top prize for sculpture at the first Paris Biennale des Jeunes. The American experience seemed to have swept him off his feet.
But the new work was powerful too, and as disconcerting at first sight as the massive figures. The now welded, sometimes bolted, steel sculptures were without bases or figurative references. The first had something rustic about it, plain forms fixed together and painted in dark colours with industrial paints. By 1962 he was using aluminium as well as steel, adding bright colours and titles such as Hopscotch and Early One Morning. The sculptures had expanded to 20ft and occupied the air as much as the ground. Sculpture had not sung like that since Brancusi launched his soaring Birds in the 1920s.
In the mid-60s Caro was regularly in the US, teaching and working at Bennington College, Vermont, alongside such painters as Jules Olitski, and he continued to maintainclose contact with the US, so much so that American reference books claim him as a native. In 1964 Greenberg wrote of him: "Without maintaining necessarily that he is a better artist than Turner, I would venture to say that Caro comes closer to the genuine grand manner genuine because original and unsynthetic than any English artist before him."
Caro had a one-man show of figure sculptures at Gimpel Fils in London in 1957, and his second was the Whitechapel show in 1963. The following year he showed in New York at the André Emmerich Gallery, and from 1965 on he featured regularly at Kasmin in London and at Emmerich's. Later his London galleries were Waddington and then Annely Juda Fine Art.
What he had found was not a new category or process but a whole new field for exploration. No one had known it was there. He explored it with an avidity and sureness of instinct that stayed with him to the end and marked him a genius. But exploration can demand changes of direction, and these worried even his admirers. I recall regretting his very severe linear sculptures in 1965, which I now admire, and in 1967 praising the more engaging Prairie with an enthusiasm I still feel. All his new pieces, until the late 60s, sat on the floor, in real space, and had to earn their right to be there by involving us in their doings or impressing us by their presence. Unusually, Caro seemed to steer by basic principles, then quickly abandoned these to demonstrate others just as basic.
His 60s sculptures were conditioned by the extended horizontal plane, though almost at once they started lifting off the floor and denying gravity of matter and spirit. In the mid-60s he reined them in as though in penance for his ebullience, but then this concentration on a few elements led him to use steel mesh, to magical effect, and thus on to the floating horizontals of the sand-coloured Prairie.
By the end of the 60s, he was setting ploughshares into space like petals. But in the late 60s he also started making his "tabletop pieces", smaller sculptures that sit on or hang over the edge of a table or box. These were never maquettes for bigger works. They were chamber music, and often quite sprightly too. He used assistants on his large pieces to try different compositions often involving large pieces of steel, weld or bolt them and then treat their surfaces in various ways. The smaller pieces could be more private, intimate in a way sculpture rarely is. Their composition, the elements of which they are formed and their overall result, is always surprising.
It is as though, as well as being the Jackson Pollock, the Willem de Kooning, the Clyfford Still, the John Hoyland and the Robyn Denny of sculpture, he was also the Paul Klee. Working with scrap metal meant working out of a response to material and forms and to compositions as they developed. This genetic process is constructed sculpture's special gift to art, but though Picasso had opened that door, nobody until Caro had opened up the vast territory beyond it. Caro worked with steel and welding the way the best modern painters have worked with paint and canvas, with colour, form and surface so interactive that the artist's role becomes inseparable from theirs. Other constructing sculptors have made sure their work had its brand image, but Caro went on finding new things to do, new tunes to play.
Music was important to him, mostly classical, while jazz and pop were no enemy. He enjoyed the arts at large: Donatello, Matisse, ancient, modern, Indian, African. He was well read. But culture and learning are never paraded in his work. The nearest he got to that was with the Trojan War sculptures he showed at Kenwood House, Hampstead, in 1994; welded steel combined with fired ceramic to make vertical forms suggesting figures. Is nothing sacred? Literary associations in abstract art? Ceramic with steel? He had started using that combination in the 70s, as well as using cast bronze with steel and lead with wood and with glass fibres in resin, and even just bronze and just paper. Figures? Artists do not draw lines between abstraction and figuration.
Caro's work had become emphatically vertical with the Veduggio series of 1972-73, using large, soft-edged, pastry-like steel offcuts he found in Italy, and also emphatically natural and earthy because he varnished them to keep the rust rather than clothing them in paint. He enjoyed the soft forms of the steel in these lovely new pieces, warm as well as grand, but hardly had he begun showing them than he started working in stainless steel, and then in silver for his 25th wedding anniversary.
In the mid-80s he made bronze variations on an Indian carved relief of female warriors, and a visit to Greece in 1985 was reflected in a series of sculptures as variations on the pediments he admired there. In 1990 he welded his version of a Rembrandt Deposition, which now stands in the ante-chapel at his former Cambridge college. In 1984 he started making "sculpitecture" small and full-size models of pavilions. "Architects do not get their hands dirty enough," he said at the time, with Richard Rogers welcoming this "architecture free from necessity" in 1989.
Both in his heavily physical figures and in the almost infinite variety of his sculptures, Caro made sculpture free from any necessity but that of holding and moving our spirits. He produced energetically, was in countless mixed shows around the globe and about 130 one-man shows, including one at the Serpentine Gallery in 1984, subsequently seen abroad, along with that show of a few very large pieces in the Duveen Gallery of the Tate in 1991. The most resplendent was that in Rome in 1992 with 39 pieces dating from 1960 to 1987, superbly displayed in the ancient Trajan's Markets in Rome. In 1995 his was the second show, and the first solo show, to be presented in Tokyo's new Museum of Contemporary Art.
Over several years after the turn of the century, Caro worked on a project in the newly restored choir of the church of St Jean-Baptiste in Bourbourg, in the Nord-pas-de-Calais, which had been wrecked when a second world war RAF pilot crashed onto the roof to avoid hitting houses. Caro linked the nave and choir with sculpture in the Corten steel that had become his favourite material, and in the choir built wooden towers, a spiralling concrete font and sculptures of steel, terracotta and wood in the niches of the blind arcade running around the choir and rounded apse. It is a monumental work, reflecting the twisted metal and broken stone of the wreckage but evoking the creation, a work to rival the ambition of Matisse's Chapel of the Rosary at Vence. The new chapel was reconsecrated in 2008.
Moore had been the most famous sculptor after Rodin. Caro was the most famous after Moore. They were in some ways opposites. Whereas Caro might have been a great Moore disciple, he chose to be something more like a son, rejecting much of what the old man had stood for but matching his professionalism and vigour. He had many British and American honorary doctorates and fellowships, was knighted in 1987, and in 2000 he became the first artist since Moore to be awarded the OM.
Caro was close to many people and enjoyed long friendships, but he was not a great socialiser. One thinks of his friendly glance and ready smile, and of his pipe. If one met him in a gallery, Sheila was usually with him. In his studio he had trusted, long-term assistants. He spoke well about his work, and taught occasionally long after he stopped needing the money. He was a private person, and never one to preen himself, one could see him enjoy an audience. He was a good man as well as a great artist (the two do not always go together). He has left no great theories but a lot of fine, sometimes magnificent sculpture and a sense of creative joy that will stay with them.
Date of Birth: 30 April 1938 Fulham, London, UK
Birth Name: David Cripps
David Cripps was the leading British photographer of objects of his generation. His work helped to launch the careers of countless artists and makers. David had a supreme gift for showing his subjects from ceramics to studio glass and jewellery with a new clarity and candour, bringing out form, colour and texture through his crisp use of light and shadow, and setting his subjects in a studied space that gave context and breadth. His photography went beyond documentation, adding a new dimension to the objects on which he set his camera.
Much of his observational skill came from his graphic training, a visual sense that was nurtured early. He was born in Fulham, south-west London, into a family of modest means. His mother had been in service (the poet John Masefield was among her employers) and his father was a gas fitter. Though he was often ill as a child, his parents recognised an ability that gained him a place at the Sir Christopher Wren school in Notting Hill, west London. The school was linked to Hammersmith School of Art, and much of the curriculum was devoted to art and architecture, giving David a portfolio sufficient to take him to the London College of Printing in the mid-1950s. He went on to work in Chelsea as a graphic artist for Hans Schleger, the German-born designer famous for his London Transport circle and bar symbol for bus stops and pioneering work on corporate identity. This was a heady time, with David very much part of the swinging London art scene.
David Cripps was a perfectionist, his asides on substandard work pithy and wonderfully blunt.
Following a period in an advertising agency, David got a job at the new Observer colour supplement, assisting the art director. It was here that his photographs were first seen, initially fashion shots and then still life’s for the cover. This made him an obvious choice for the memorable still-life sequence that accompanied Raymond Hawkey's titles for Richard Attenborough's film Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), for which Hawkey and David received great acclaim.
After a period of personal difficulties, David resurfaced at the time Crafts magazine was launching in 1973. By chance he met its art director John Hawkins who employed David to photograph craft objects for its features, and the characteristic simplicity of David's style became an integral part of the publication, and the modern crafts imagery of the 70s and 80s. In 1975 Bruce Bernard, the discerning picture editor of the Sunday Times magazine, spotted David's photographs and employed him immediately. As Bernard would later write, David's work "showed a much more particular appreciation of each individual object than I had ever seen before. He uses light to illuminate not blind and sees every subject as an entirely separate problem ... But his unique respect for the subjects does not rob his pictures of their graphic strength."
As well as extensive work for the Crafts Council (which gave him a retrospective in 1979) and Design magazine, Cripps contributed to many books in the late 70s and 80s. These included numerous monographs and catalogues on artists and makers such as Charles Sargeant Jagger, Lucie Rie, Elizabeth Fritsch, Alison Britton and, more recently, Ewen Henderson, Carol McNicoll and Michael Rowe, many of whom became valued friends. There were his contributions to major surveys such as Wealth of the Roman World for the British Museum (1977), Dada and Surrealism Reviewed for the Hayward Gallery (1978), British Craft Textiles (1985) and Quilts of the British Isles (1987). Books for the popular market included charming studies with Mary Stewart-Wilson of Queen Mary's dolls' house (1988) and the Royal Mews (1991), each project cherished for how it might broaden his perception and technique. He was a fine portraitist, and his personal work included superb landscape, still-life and flower studies, many of which were exhibited in solo shows in London and Birmingham in the mid-1990s.
While David was involved in several recent projects, including recording much of the great ethnographic collection at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, London, and work on Royal Mail commemorative stamps, he was semi-retired by 1998, the year he moved from north London to Ramsgate. Though distant from his favourite Soho drinking haunts, he relished his new Kent friends, and a large house to renovate. And while not the world's best businessman bills were things you never opened – he brought his sensibility to stylish dressing, good cooking and a lasting interest in art.
A perfectionist, his asides on substandard work were pithy and wonderfully blunt. But he was one of the warmest people I have known, and it was this modesty and empathy that he brought to the camera, a lasting contribution for which he was made an MBE. As Bernard wrote: "Through his dedication to the work of the artist craftsman he has himself became a true artist and craftsman of the camera."
Date of Birth: 7 September 1914, Leytonstone, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Stuart Freeborne
His imagination and talent were central to the success of such pictures. For example 2001’s famous “Dawn of Man” sequence was only possible because of Freeborn’s pioneering work on ape suits. Though his techniques were new, the results were so polished that some viewers were convinced that the apes must be real. Meanwhile for George Lucas, the director of Star Wars, Freeborn created a cast of intergalactic monsters and heroes from the bloated reptilian villain Jabba the Hutt to the pint-size chartreuse Jedi, Yoda, which appealed to audiences every bit as much, if not more, than their human counterparts.
Yoda appears in the second of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), as tutor and mentor to the aspiring Jedi warrior, Luke Skywalker. Freeborn’s effects served to create an emotionally convincing character, and each of Yoda’s gnomic, grammatically-tortured musings was accompanied by expressive head-cocking, ear-twitching, lip-pursing and eye-rolling. The character, whose features Freeborn modelled on his own (with a dash of Albert Einstein thrown in for good measure) has become something of a cult figure.
The Empire Strikes Back combined old-school puppetry with animatronics that would come to dominate special effects thereafter. Animatronics would themselves be largely superseded by computer-generated images, such as those used in the recent Star Wars trilogy (1999-2005). Shot 20 years after the first three movies, the new films’ impressive but somewhat soulless effects had many critics longing for the characterful wizardry of the originals. For Freeborn’s ability to bestow the spark of life was acquired not at the computer screen, but at the mirror of the house in which he grew up, where he endlessly practised transforming the only model available himself.
Stuart Freeborn was born in Leytonstone, east London, on September 7th 1914, and grew up in Beckenham, Kent. His father was an insurance broker and keen that Stuart should follow in his footsteps. The boy had other ideas, and made himself up into a host of characters from Mr Hyde-like fiends to trilby-sporting, matchstick-chewing sleuths. He photographed the results and fired off the pictures to film studios, to no avail.
According to Nick Maley, a make-up artist who later worked alongside Freeborn, the aspiring special-effects man got his break as a 21-year-old by passing himself off in Beckenham as the Emperor Haile Selassie. Initially the impersonation was rewarded only with a police interview, but as the story spread, Denham Studios, headed by Alexander Korda, offered Freeborn a job.
He began on Wings of the Morning (1937), starring Annabella and Henry Fonda, and followed it with Victoria the Great (also 1937) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940). During the war he trained with the RAF but was forced to truncate his service owing to haemophilia. Instead he worked on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).
It was not until Green For Danger (1946) that he got his first on-screen credit, and two years later his career took-off with Oliver Twist. Required to transform Alec Guinness into Fagin, Freeborn produced two versions of the character for screen testing. One was subtle, one grotesquely exaggerated. Director David Lean put the tests to a vote, and the latter version won the day. “So that’s the way I had to do it, never mind how over the top it was,” Freeborn recalled. In New York, the hook-nosed villain was denounced as anti-Semitic and Oliver Twist was not shown there until 1951.
The controversy upset Freeborn, but his talent was no longer in doubt. He worked on several films a year, including, in 1957, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Again working with Lean, Freeborn flew out to Sri Lanka where, travelling one day to the set, he was in a car accident that killed all the vehicle’s other occupants. Thrown into the jungle, he lay semi-conscious, unnoticed by rescuers for several hours. After he was spotted he spent four months recuperating in hospital.
He transformed Peter Sellers into three characters in Dr Strangelove (1964) and four years later the director of that film, Stanley Kubrick, hired him again to mastermind the opening sequence of 2001, A Space Odyssey (1968).
The prologue captures the moment that, under the shadow of the unflinching monolith, apes learn how to use tools, a leap in intelligence prefiguring the rise of man. Freeborn’s genius was to craft lightweight foam skins for the headpieces of the ape suits that perfectly reflected the expressions of the mime artists inside them. The apes’ lips drew back to reveal teeth underneath. In each ape mouth, the tongue was operated by the actor’s own. Weaving the bodysuits from yak, horse and human hair, was simple by comparison. It was time-consuming, however, as in many parts of the costume each hair had to be punched into foam latex with a needle. Freeborn would deploy similar techniques to create the hirsute Wookie hero, Chewbacca, in Star Wars.
Also in the 1970s, Freeborn worked on the devilish Omen (1976) and the action-hero film Superman (1978). It was he who came up with the idea of parting Christopher Reeve’s hair one way when he was playing his shy alter ego Clark Kent, and the other when he was sporting his superhero’s cape. Before shooting, Freeborn also played a part in relieving Gene Hackman, cast as the villain Lex Luthor, of his treasured moustache.
Richard Donner, director of Superman, wanted Hackman cleanshaven for the part. So he asked Freeborn to make him up with “the greatest moustache you’ve ever done”, and then had a meeting with Hackman. Donner told the actor: “Do me a favour. The moustache has to go. You take off your moustache and I’ll take off mine.” Reluctantly, Hackman allowed Freeborn to shave him. Once the razor had done its work, Donner peeled off his appendage.
Freeborn continued to work until 1990. His last project was the television film Max and Helen. In 1984 he was nominated for a BAFTA for his work on Return of the Jedi.