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Martin Puryear

Over the last several decades, Martin Puryear has created a distinct body of work, including sculpture and works on paper. Throughout his career, his striking, abstract forms and compositions – beautifully crafted and characteristically subtle --have remained rich in their cultural and historical references. 

After graduating from college, Puryear served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, where he studied with local potters, weavers, and woodcarvers, and gained an appreciation for the techniques of the region. Following his time in Africa, he went on to Stockholm, where he studied printmaking at the Royal Swedish Academy of Art. Along with sculpture, printmaking has remained central to his practice.

As he develops his work, Puryear distills ideas and forms that flow naturally between two- and threedimensions. In his printmaking, he often experiments and combines different techniques - gravitating towards those that are more tactile. For the etching on view here, Black Cart, he has also incorporated chine collé, a collage-like element that gives the blacks in the print a dense, velvet-like quality. The central image - a cart - relates closely to a number of Puryear’s sculptures, some of which have included wagon wheels and wagons. The origins of the cart in Black Cart can be traced back to an old wheelbarrow he found in 1993, during an artist-residency at Alexander Calder’s studio in France. In the upper right-hand corner of the etching, Puryear has drawn a simple diagram of the cart’s structure. He has explained that he associates carts with “the idea of escaping into an unknown future, of traveling to safety, and of taking dreams of advancement with you.”  

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., the son of a postal employee and a schoolteacher, Puryear took an early interest in the natural sciences and often visited the Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo. Frequent visits to the National Gallery of Art helped stimulate his interest in art. Since his first solo exhibition in 1968, his works have been exhibited throughout the world, including public commissions in Europe, Asia, and the United States. In 2007, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a survey of his work, which traveled to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Puryear received a MacArthur Foundation award in 1989 and a National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2011. In 2019, he represented the United States at the 58th Venice Biennale.