Long Distance, 1987
In a large studio in his native Texas, James Surls builds powerful, constructed forms of steel and wood. In Long Distance, the hanging, swirling sculpture references the hanging mobiles of Calder, but only in format, not in content. The organic gesture of the wooden leaf forms sprouting from the steel rods disrupts the mathematical symmetry of their structure, acknowledging both the inspiration of nature and Native American images. The drawn and burned eyes inside of the spiky leaves are similar in style to Northwest Coast native carved wooden masks and totems, and offer a potent animism that is embraced by traditional native cultures. There is also an element of ecological threat in the burned wooden leaves and their extrusion from cast metal stems. In both the carving and the drawing, the hand of the artist is left very present by the roughness of surface or line. These qualities lend Surls’s work a romanticism that is not seen in many of the modern or Minimalist sculpture in the Art Museum’s collection.
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