To be surrounded by the work of Martin Puryear is to wonder into an elegantly crafted world of various organic shapes and objects, all uniquely created and all graceful in nature. Unlike many contemporary artists, Puryear's work emphasizes the historical concept of craftsmanship. Whether the artist is utilizing various woods, or wire mesh covered with tar, these materials are manipulated with painstaking concentration and attention to detail. The results are sculptures that at once emphasize the process of their creation as well as the simplicity of their form.
Puryear's organic and abstract sculptures are rather contradictory in nature, as the artist uses materials that are roughly hewn or heavy by nature, and re-shapes them into fluid, and at times, polished forms. This interest in the duality inherent in objects is explored further as Puryear plays with the ideas of internal and external space, lightness and weight, and abstraction and figuration.
Reminiscent of a wave about to crest, or the top of an ice-cream cone, just off the ice-cream truck, Untitled, 1990 is much more complex than it initially appears. Like the artist's work in wood, Untitled, 1990 is meticulously crafted as steel rods have been bent and molded to create a framework which is then covered by squares of wire mesh, tied together. A thick layer of tar has then been applied on top, which viewed closely, betrays the open framework within, exposing the transparency and the lightness of the piece. Here the artist's preference of building a work rather than casting or sculpting is made clear.
Puryear's level of craftsmanship is truly unsurpassed as his control of the materials with which he works, and his artistic vision create forms that bring to mind countless associations that allow the viewer's mind to run. "Amidst the continually shifting postmodernist landscape, Puryear has maintained a constant and singular vision: unafraid of beauty, the well-made object, and the visibility of meaning in art and in our world, he is without question one of America's pre-eminent sculptors." (M. A. Crutchfield, Martin Puryear, Richmond 2001, p.3).
Martin Puryear in his studio, Chicago, 1987 Photograph by Ron Bailey