This substantial new body of work by Martin Puryear, published here for the first time, incorporates a range of materials, from bronze, cast iron, and mirror-polished stainless steel to a variety of woods, including red cedar, yellow poplar, and ebony. Puryear has adapted his techniques from traditional methods, including wood carving, joinery, and boat building, as well as digital technology.
What sets his work apart, however, is its unmistakable devotion to form. For over forty years, Puryear has conceived familiar yet elusive shapes that seem to exist outside of time. Many of the sculptures featured here incorporate the up-and-over figure of the Phrygian cap, an object freighted with significance for over two centuries, beginning with its embrace by the Jacobins of the French Revolution.
Alex Potts, in the essay, helps unravel these historical allusions while offering a concise overview of Puryear’s work and its remarkable craftsmanship. “Puryear goes in for simple, clear shapes whose realization involves a painstaking and skilled process of making. There is a sense of instantaneity and immediacy but also of slow deliberation. He does not want the form of his work to be a thicket of complexity — no fussiness — at the same time that its make-up as a material thing should indicate that it came into being slowly, through a quite intricate process. This is not something the artist takes as an end but rather as a factor he bears in mind while conceiving a work.”