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James Surls standing with his sculpture 14 flowers.

James Surls:
Now of Now
14 Thought 14

December 11, 2023 - April 7, 2024

One of the most preeminent living artists in the United States, James Surls helped to redefine Texas art in the 1970s. With his long hair and deer-antler earrings, for decades the burly East Texas native (born in 1943) transformed massive logs of wood into a wide range of atavistic sculptures. By emphasizing the physicality of natural materials through cutting, chopping, and incising, Surls offers multiple ways for viewers to access the metaphysical. Over the years he developed an iconography rife with natural and domestic motifs: eyes, blades, houses, vessels, thorns, knives, diamonds, atoms, hands—and flowers.   

 

These days Surls lives in Colorado and is best known for his enormous public sculptures and evocative prints and drawings. His art has been featured in hundreds of exhibitions and belongs to the permanent collections of major museums and private collectors worldwide. He’s received numerous honors, such as a recent Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center. In 2022, Surls was selected to redesign the Texas Medal for the Arts, the Texas Cultural Trust’s biennial award honoring artists, musicians, performers, and other luminaries who have achieved excellence (Surls himself was awarded the Medal of the Arts in 2013). The UMLAUF hosted a solo exhibition of his sculpture in 2019. Now, in celebration of the artist’s eightieth year, his long dedication to the arts, and his connection to the museum’s namesake, Charles Umlauf (1910-1994), we’re honored to share this single monumental sculpture, Fourteen Flowers. First created for Dallas’ Meadows Museum (2002), Surls reconfigured it in 2023 to be site-specific for the UMLAUF. 

 

Surls hails from a highly rambunctious generation of interdisciplinary artists who were radically different from Charles Umlauf (1910-1994). He recalls how Umlauf was known for his crushing handshake that leveled many a younger artist. (Umlauf's grip wouldn’t have affected Surls, once described as “the Paul Bunyan” of the art world.)  The older artist left a positive impression on Surls, who remembers how Umlauf’s colossal bronze Spirit of Flight at Dallas Love Field helped him understand the power of public art. We are pleased to display the scale model for Spirit of Flight on the terrace adjacent to Fourteen Flowers, which floats ethereally in the heart of the UMLAUF gallery. 

 

The UMLAUF is grateful to our friends at the Texas Cultural Trust, Anne and Richard Smalling, Ellen Breaux, and Ray Benson. Thank you also to our wonderful curatorial intern, Avery Connett, and volunteer Steve Bosak.  

 

This exhibition could not have been possible without Charmaine and James Surls. 

Image Gallery

Exhibition Brochures

Please take a look at our Exhibition Brochure with an essay from our Curator.

Cover of exhibition brochure featuring James Surls and his sculpture 14 flowers.
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