Monday, October 10, 2011

"James Surls and Charmaine Locke"

James Surls, Jung Center, Houston, 2011.
Growing up in a small, East Texas town, one of the things that saved me was having a highly respected and renowned artist in my home town of Spendora, who was, for me, a mentor and an inspiration. Some years have passed, and we have both long-ago left Splendora, so it was a homecoming of sorts to recently be in Texas at the same time as the art exhibit of James Surls and his wife, Charmaine Locke.

My afternoon of art included all the Houston hot spots, The Menil, Rothko Chapel, the Cy Twombly Gallery, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Contemporary Arts Museum, which was proudly displaying its own James Surls sculpture out front.

James Surls, CAM, Houston, 2011.
The Contemporary Arts Center, or the CAM, located in the Montrose District of Houston, is just next door to the Jung Center, where the Surls/Locke exhibit was featured, so it made a perfect introduction to what awaited. Surls' pieces have an uncanny knack for fitting perfectly into their surroundings. The stainless steel structure positioned against the backdrop of the museum, is a perfect example.

In addition to the monumental works and pieces designed to be outdoors, Surls also produces work on a more approachable scale including small sculptures and drawings, which were both featured in the exhibit at the Jung Center, located at 5200 Montrose, in Houston, Texas.
James Surls, Jung Center, Houston, 2011.
There, his familiar themes show up again and again in his work (and in the three books covering his career). Abstract flowers (above), knives, hands, diamonds, tools, and the ubiquitous eye, all make appearances in the work on display.
James Surls, Jung Center, Houston, 2011.
It is one of the symbols I remember strongly from those long days spent in Surls enormous studio in Splendora, that eye, peering at me from multiple sculptures and drawings, as if it had its own perceptive qualities. For the visual artist, the eye just about says it all, as it is the source and the portal for the majority of creative works. James Surls uses the eye, simplistic and obvious, spinning out in a whirling vortex of flower petals, piercing and penetrating, returning the gaze back at the viewer.

Surls' work is also self-referential, another creative device employed which communicates an honesty from the artist. Whether it is the ax or the knife, he acknowledges his materials including his heavy use of wood, which grew so abundantly in the Big Thicket region of Splendora, combining it with the fortitude and masculinity of forged metal.

And Surls' is, above many things, a masculine artist. His choice of material and statement, his own myth and legend as the father of seven daughters, his sturdy build and the timbre to his voice. But even more, he is a story teller, and each piece carefully tells a story, most often the story of the female essence. As he pointed out in the talk he gave at the Jung Center, women appear in much of his work, either physically or descriptively, (frequently incorporated into his titles is 'she' and 'her'). And then, upon further observation, it exists within his seemingly masculine art, such as in the sculpture featuring needle and thread.

James Surls, Jung Center, Houston, 2011.
The needle and thread piece, shown above, epitomizes his work on many levels. The material is consistent with the Surls' canon of work, so is the reference to tools, and the eye, this time manifesting in the eye of the needle. It is undeniably brutally masculine while still arguably delicately feminine.

Beyond the influence of Surls seven daughters, probably the most powerful woman in his life is his wife, fellow artist Charmaine Locke.
Charmaine Locke, Jung Center, Houston, 2011.
Locke, an accomplished artist in her own right, has a body of work reflecting the entire feminine domain, often referencing home, nesting, domesticity, and the unspoken power of that which is woman. Her nearly life-sized drawings on display at the Jung Center all embody the female form as expressed through the Goddess. Large drawings on paper, with figure prominently positioned in the center of the space, are filled with symbolism of femininity: the tea pot and cup, lilies and other flowers, the fertility of nature.

James Surls, Jung Center, Houston, 2011.
And although the work of these two artists seem worlds apart, after some studying it becomes clear that this is two sides of the same creative stories, told from two different perspectives but using many of the same words.

In the end, the exhibit, entitled "The Dance of Life", and on display through October 29, 2011, shows how these two artists and partners have moved through this life, engaged in a creativity and a dance that is all their own.
James Surls and Charmaine Locke, Jung Center, Houston, 2011.

From my own selfish standing, I am just thankful that they were there in Splendora when I needed them. Artists to show that you can chose to live a creative life, and be financially and critically successful at it in the process. They taught with encouraging words, through creative output and by being an inspiring example.

For more on the Jung Center in Houston:

See more of James Surls

And for Charmaine Locke

No comments:

Post a Comment