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Martin Puryear’s sculptures offer a highly original response to Minimalism, which was a predominant movement in the art world when he was a student in art school in the 1960s. Responding to the Minimalist use of reductive sculptural form, Puryear creates works that acquire poetic resonance through the way in which they are crafted by hand, rather than fabricated using the industrial techniques favored by many Minimalist artists.
From a young age, Puryear was fascinated by the processes used to make hand-crafted objects and made his own objects from wood, such as guitars and a canoe. While serving in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone in West Africa, he observed local crafts and techniques such as woodworking, pottery, and textile design. He later learned furniture design at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, having admired the careful modern craftsmanship of Scandinavian furniture makers. Rather than creating functional objects, Puryear employed the craft-based techniques that he learned through these diverse experiences to create conceptually rich works of art.
Puryear has been fascinated with falconry since his youth, collecting books on the subject and even creating hoods for a bird he hoped to catch. This abstract work evokes the form of a falcon perched on a slender rod. The falcon, a bird of prey that is trained to serve human masters, is an important symbol of the nexus of nature and culture, of freedom and constraint. The shape of this untitled work also suggests a staff or the upright form of a human body with a mask-like head. This poetic multiplicity is characteristic of Puryear’s larger body of works, as his sculptures are intended to work on many different levels.
Although the work is cast in bronze, traces of wood grain are evident on the surface of the sculpture, making reference to the woodworking techniques that Puryear has so creatively employed.