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Martin Puryear

Ark (1985)

Ark (1985), by Martin Puryear

Ark (1985), by Martin Puryear (Click Image for High-Resolution)

Martin Puryear was born in Washington D.C. He received his BA from Catholic University and his MFA from Yale University. Puryear taught art and English in Sierra Leone with the Peace Corps from 1964 to 1966. While in Africa, he studied woodcarving with African craftsmen and learned how to use traditional carving tools.1

Puryear is celebrated for his "monumental minimalist" geometric or organic forms.2 He creates art that fits easily within its environment. The sculpture Puryear designed for York quietly hovers overhead and is often completely overlooked. It was as if he took gigantic pencil and graceful, continuous line in space. His choice of an untraditional space for sculpture is evidence of how Puryear tests his limits.3

While his forms appear simple at first glance, Puryear messages are left open to interpretation and can become quite complex. Ark traces the skeletal structure of a boat. The title immediately brings to mind the Holy Bible and Noah's important voyage. Puryear might be suggesting survival of a people, a nation, or an entire world. He won't tell us because "the viewer [must] look at the work and make his or her own stories. Puryear connection to Africa and African Americ's ancestors, who survived horrific ocean crossings centuries ago, bring to mind slave ships. As students, when we walk below Ark, we reminded that our life journeys might require endurance as well, but we the heirs of survivors.

by Charity McPherson, Class of 2002

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  1. Biographical data originally taken from http://www.albrightknox.org (accessed 13 May 2002). Current biographical information available at http://www.albrightknox.org/ArtStart/Puryear_t.html (accessed 25 April 2008).
  2. Michael Brenson, "Works for Urban College Raise Hard Questions," The New
    York Times
    (8 April 1988). (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE4D81E3CF93BA35757C0A96E948260)
  3. Personal correspondence with Susan Lubosky Talbott, Art Director of the Des
    Moines Art Center (27 January 2002).

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This project was completed in Spring 2008 by students in English 384, Writing for Electronic Media.