It’s not often that I discover artists like Martin Puyear. I was truly interested on the body of work he presented at the Parasol Unit gallery in Shoreditch, London, end of last year, and really inspired by it. His abstract works are finely hand-made from wood and bronze and the use of craft methods and natural materials on the sculptures he creates shows a great respect to skilled craftsmanship. He proves that abstraction isn’t separate from traditional techniques and in fact it’s more relevant than ever. To me, this exhibition brought back the spirit of the Arts & Crafts Movement promoted by William Morris and Ruskin in the XIX century, with the joy of craftsmanship that it inspired and the natural beauty of materials.
Furthermore, with his works Puryear also explores social history and makes a very subtle political statement. In addition to the sculptures, the printmaking works presented on this gallery on the first floor offered a different perspective of the wood and bronze sculptures.
This exhibition was curated by Ziba Ardalan and was the artist’s first solo show in London. It presented over 30 works of sculpture and works in paper and spans 40 years of the artist’s practice. In the ground floor gallery there were large-scale works, such as the “Big Phrygian”, 2010–2014. This five-foot tall cedarwood sculpture, painted bright red, resembles the distinctive shape of a Phrygian cap, which is a soft conical cap with the top pulled forward. People of ancient Eastern Europe and Anatolia wore such caps, which in the modern world have come to signify the pursuit of liberty. This contrasted with the iron sculpture “Shackled”, 2014, which recalls the shackles worn by slaves when they were taken to America.
The African-American began exploring traditional craft methods in his youth, studied a BA in the States and went to spend two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leona, where he learned local woodworking techniques. Following this time in Africa, he spend two more years (1966-68) studying at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm before returning to the US to attend Yale University in 1971, where he received an MFA in Sculpture. His work is widely exhibited and collected both in the United States and internationally.
“I value the referential quality of art, the fact that a work can allude to things or states of being without in any way representing them.” Martin Puryear.
For The art berries, performing with these works was like merging with nature. Almost like when an architect thinks about how to integrate his design within the surrounding landscape, but with a more humble approach of course! We hope you enjoy the photos!