Through the Thorn Tree - James Surls

(Carbondale, CO, October 17th, 2017) JAMES SURLS / THROUGH THE THORN TREE an exhibition of 52 works of art selected form the vast sea of art produced over the last forty years.

Opening: Nov 2nd, 2017 – April 28th, 2018 The Biblical Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.  

When it comes down to principles, sometimes you just have to walk the plank. When you reach the edge, you have to make the leap. Some times you have to "trust your feelings" and go with them. I know that is what I am doing with this exhibition called "Through The Thorn Tree" at the Biblical Museum of Art in Dallas. Not all, but a considerable number of my friends have told me "Don't do it", but I have to tell you, I am compelled at every turn, at every consideration to do it. It is like "If I were me, being me, looking at me as me, I would want me to do this exhibition. But if I were me, being me, looking at me through their eyes, then I don't know how much I would like seeing me doing what I am doing.” I simply have to consider my personal history. The big question of the day is where do I stand as it relates to my time in this life. I can not abandon my history, which started in the early 1940's rural East Texas surrounded by church goers, deacons and believers with full intent to influence. 

I remember seeing our daddy baptized in a stock tank out in a pasture with pick-ups and sedan automobiles parked all around the open side of the tank dam. The congregation was dressed in their Sunday best, all gathered around to be a witness and watch as my father and the preacher waded out waist deep through the muddy red water. It was part of my life and part of my being.   

I feel as if I am on some kind of settling mission. I am sorting out the strata of my existence. I feel the need to say out loud how a belief system got me started on my life's journey. The need is so great that I have to clear the bower so as to be able to invite in the world to a totally new system of order.  I wrote in 1995 about a sculpture I had just finished called "Swimming in Forever". I wrote that I had looked deep through the crack in the cosmic egg and seen the depths from which all things are possible; nothing was like I had thought.

A few years before I had finished a sculpture call "Walking in Immensity" and before that a sculpture called "Tornado", a church with a magnified force looming large from its roof lines. Robert Hughes wrote in TIME Magazine that the tornado was chewing up and devouring the church that it was setting on top of. He had missed the mark. The church was not being eaten by or destroyed by the tornado, rather the whirling force was coming from the inside of the church. I did meet Robert Hughes on several different occasions, but never mentioned to him that he missed, he also referred to me as a "Master of Buck-eye surrealism", he missed again. But such is the world of critics. I never said anything to him on the subject. There is at the core of my work a certain message, meaning and content. There are questions and an attempt to give visible cause and information that is passed through the living vine of humanity. 

Anything having to do with spirituality, religion or the church is such a hot button issue in today’s world that I am drawn with force to speak my truth. At my age I have nothing but personal truth to tell. We as a society are in an existential crisis, we speak on a daily basis of the "Culture War", where division is sown only for the reaper.  I am compelled to release the voices of my creative calling, which came early to my Being and have only gotten stronger through the years. 

I was given total freedom by The Museum of Biblical Art. I carefully chose art from the extensive body of my work to represent me in this exhibition. Of the 52 works of art, I will say all carry the conviction of my thinking. The sculpture titled How Far Back is a large wooden figure with a church for its head, its torso is twisted so as to give it the ability to see back to the beginning of what it means to be human. It has a single hand cradling a large protuberance extending from its belly. The church head has many eyes at its entrance and on its back side. 

How Far Back , 1989, Red and White Oak, 100” x 62” x 55”

How Far Back, 1989, Red and White Oak, 100” x 62” x 55”

How Far Back, 1989, Red and White Oak, 100” x 62” x 55”

There is another sculpture titled "Rough God". This work of art is forged from heavy steel, hammered into the shape of a massive thread and covered in extended thorns reaching out into the surrounding space. Representing a reality that we are effected with the day to day existence of a force far greater than our own.

Rough God 3 , 2010, Steel, 46” x 69” x 44”

Rough God 3, 2010, Steel, 46” x 69” x 44”

Seven of the works of art in this exhibition are heavy granite stones, each with a drawing and poem. These works are each a collaboration between the poet Robert Creeley and myself. I spent much time with Robert, one of Americas great poets. He wrote the poems and I did the drawings. One of these stones carries the image of a pair of hands grasping the Universe, with the poetic words, "So Simply Vast / Placed / In this Space / Everywhere".

So Simply Vast , 1991, Hand Rubbing, 36 ½ x 58 inches

So Simply Vast, 1991, Hand Rubbing, 36 ½ x 58 inches

I am dedicating this exhibition to Bob and Linda Buford, life long "Believers" who have given their very Being to faith and trust in a higher order. We have been friends since 1973, through it all, the good and the bad times of life. They hold "the belief in" to be fixed and absolute. I see Creation as a living thing. I believe it was not a point in time, but rather is ever evolving through time, space and our beings.

James Surls