TALK: with Sculptor Christopher Kurtz

Saturday 21 June 2018

Christopher Kurtz is one of the world’s preeminent sculptors in wood – one of a stable of exceptional artists working in the Hudson River area north of New York and due to have a one man show at Messums Wiltshire in the summer of 2019.
Brought up in Kansas, the son of an advertising hoardings designer, Kurtz had an early training in calligraphy by watching his father paint the signs.
‘We think of creativity as breaking down the barriers but if you have boundaries it can free you and I see skills as a form of boundaries,’ he said.
‘In the same way that musicians have to learn musical scales in order to express themselves, learning how to craft wood and making things more narrow has been my ticket for freedom of expression.’
During his talk he talked about a number of his works including (A) Typical Windsor Form, an extraordinary sculpture made of two conjoined Windsor chairs.
In the 18thcentury making chairs was the height of sophistication, he pointed out. ‘Within a single chair could be a lifetime’s work. Steam-bending, carving and engineering of unparalleled complexity made Windsor chairs sturdy but flexible; a chair that yields for comfort.’
Making the twin Windsor chairs, ‘nearly killed me,’ he confessed, ‘I had nightmares about it.’
‘So much art is about death and sex; very little about empathy,’ he continued. ‘A chair is a moment of repose; it feels like a human body, it captures that intermittent moment between lying down and standing up.’
For a number of years Kurtz assisted Martin Puryear, one of America’s pre-eminent wood artists and one who is representing America at the Venice Biennale next year. ‘We have lived through an era when art has equalled intellectuality and difficult things and craft has equalled skill’ said Kurtz. ‘I am lucky to be living now in an era when there is less distinction. A lot of institutions are starting to break down the distinction between art and craft and we are all in the middle of it.
The truth is that most artists are very intuitive. I like letting scholars and historians figure out the meaning of my works. I have a philosophical bent but my job is to do my job. You should own what you do and let everyone else work out what it means.’

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