BAKEWELL, England (Reuters) - Bent, pleated and curved steel structures in hues of rusty brown, bright orange and vibrant green adorn the grassy slopes around a pond at one of Britain's oldest country estates in a new exhibit showcasing the creations of sculptor Anthony Caro.
"Caro at Chatsworth" explores the work of one of the biggest living names in sculpture, from the 1960s to the present day, featuring 15 abstract sculptures set against the backdrop of Chatsworth House, the stately home of the Duke of Devonshire in northern England.
Blank planes of rusty steel, brown metal tubes and painted girders replete with visible nuts and bolts feature prominently in the freestanding sculptures which evoke construction materials and mostly measure about two meters (yards) or less in height.
"I never thought I would make anything abstract -- I always thought that it had to have a reference to people, and I think it still does -- I still think there's a reference in terms of size and availability," Caro told Reuters this week on a press tour of the exhibit.
"I think it has to be something which is not too far away like a general on a horse -- it needs to be something more immediate, closer to your life," he said.
A series of seven symmetrical rusted steel stairways called "Goodwood Steps" form the focal point of the retrospective exhibition situated at the edge of a big pond. Completed in 1996, the hollow stepped structures are linked by floor-level scratched semi-circular sheets of varnished steel.
"The steps hold the whole thing together and they make this pond, this oblong stretch of water, like a room which has got paintings or sculptures all the way round on the walls, on the grass," said Duke of Devonshire Peregrine Cavendish, who lives at Chatsworth House, in an interview aboard a golf buggy.
"But they're like paintings without frames; they don't have any plinths or anything -- they're just embedded in the grass. We have to be very careful with the way we mow the grass now -- we practically use nail scissors!"
Caro is famous for revolutionizing the art form in the 1960s by working with brightly painted steel resting directly on the floor at a time when bronze sculptures on plinths were conventional.
Caro resurrected some of his earliest abstract creations like "Sculpture Seven", a collection of green, blue and brown girders placed on top of each other dating from 1961, for the exhibition at Chatsworth.
"The sculptures all had to be refurbished and cleaned up because they'd been in Yorkshire in a barn and they'd got covered in goo ... it's the first time I've seen them looking pristine for years and it's nice to see these old friends," he said at the launch of the exhibition.
After starting out as a figurative artist in the 1950s, Caro switched to abstract art in the 1960s, creating works like "Capital", which features two suspended planes of painted orange steel from which large nuts and bolts protrude.
"Figurative sculpture for me began to get a bit tired and it was still a figure -- it was not just a sculpture and I like to make something that's just a sculpture," Caro said.
The show combines early creations like "Cliff Song", a plane of reddish-brown rusty steel with a bulbous piece of rock-shaped metal bursting through its middle, and more recent works like "Egyptian", a hollow tomb-like brown steel structure from 2001.
The exhibition, which is surrounded by the wooded, rolling hills of England's Peak District, should remind viewers of the variety of Caro's work, curator Stephen Feeke told Reuters.
"I think we have tended to think of him as somebody who just uses big plates of steel but in fact he's much more diverse than that," he said in an interview in a grand stable courtyard.
A stainless steel sculpture called "Double Tent" made from discs, tubes, suspended semi-circles with dashed lines, curved supports and slanted girders proved to be a crowd puller on the exhibition's first day.
Other show highlights include a series of mostly horizontal structures which Caro made from planes of rusted and varnished steel in Canada in the 1970s such as "Pleats Flat", a suspended sheet of rusty steel held up by triangular supports and cut into strips to create a pleated effect.
Erecting his works in the open air where they are surrounded by bright yellow daffodils, trees and lush green grass marks a shift for Caro, who has traditionally favored indoor sites.
"I have tended to avoid outdoor settings but this is so formal and so beautifully manicured that somehow when I first came up and saw the works in place it was a pleasure and it has been a pleasure for me to see these things afresh," he said.
The exhibition is open until July 1.
(Reporting by Michelle Martin, editing by Paul Casciato)