In creating spaces of mystery and spirituality, Martin
Puryear states, "The most interesting art for me retains a flickering quality, where opposed ideas can be held in tense coexistence." This dialogue of opposites is what I find so interesting in Puryear's body of work.
In his recent thirty year retrospectives, first at MOMA in New York and recently at SFMOMA, one could walk among the large scale sculptures and observe this conversation between opposites.
In Puryear's sculpture, he creates architectural spaces that beckon us to look inside.
In Sheep's Clothing
In his piece, "In Sheep's Clothing," there is an opening at the top. We want to get in but we can't. It is both the container and the contained. It is about the externality as well as the internality. The interior becomes part of the imagination, part of our desire.
In this photo from his exhibition, you can see how he uses form and plays it in opposition to line. He plays back and forth with texture, the ultimate smooth handwork to what feels like untreated bark. He moves from solid mass to open lath, light to dark, straight to curved, all the while it is minimal and simplistic.
Puryear, an African American, was born in 1947 in Washington, D.C. He joined the Peace Corps in 1967 and went to Sierra Leone, West Africa, to teach. Living near a small village on the edge of a huge forest, one can sense the impact of the cultural environment, the smell of wood burning, the vastness of the forest and the cultural ties to the use of wood. In his spare time he built guitars, boats and furniture with the people. The work was all done with handmade tools. (There was no electricity.) These life skills would be the tools for what he does.
His signature materials are mainly woods such as pine, cedar and Douglas fur (woods that won't overstate and take away from the visuals of the piece).
To know his work is to visuallyrecognize the forms he uses, both geometric and organic, old and new. We also recognize the "touch" of his gestures. He refers to the marks he creates by planning the wood as his "drawings."
As one comes in close, his handwork is made visible. Where the wood is joined it is not hidden but emphasized. The joinery is an integral part of what the piece is about. Dowels, stra
pping, fastening, gluing, stapling, is all made visible. Puryear invites us to view the points of attachments as part of the life of the piece and of the artist. Puryear's use of the hand tool is evident. His marks lead us from the object or abstraction back to the artist and to ourselves.
Martin worked during the time of the Minimalist movement. He liked the idea of taking away, of getting down to the essence and simplifying the forms but he disagreed with their idea
of manufacturing the art and replicating. He departed from the idea of machine aesthetic. He was more interested in using his hands to do his craft. He was held as more of a neo-minimalist or modernist.
Puryear carries in his work a mystique, a quietude and sense of "otherness."
I am inspired by the scale of Puryear's work, his use of pushing and pulling of opposing ideas and of the confidence and freedom he has in going toward the imaginative "other."