Robert Murray, “Chilkat”

Robert Murray, “Chilkat”

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Robert Murray, Chilkat, 1977.

Canadian, born 1936

During the summers in the 1950s and ‘60s Robert Murray studied at the Artists’ Workshop in Emma Lake, a magnet for abstract artists. A painter and printmaker, Murray made his first sculptures during his stay at the innovative Instituto Allende in San Miguel, Mexico, in 1958–59. In 1960 he moved to New York, arriving at the height of formalism, where he made his first large, painted steel sculpture. Driven by critic Clement Greenberg (1909–1994) and ascending to dominance in the art world, formalism argued that the value of art lies in form rather than content. In this environment, Murray found a ready audience for his new works.

Murray initiates his creative process by making a small model from cardboard or thin aluminum sheets, which he bends, folds, and cuts, without preliminary drawings. According to the artist, “I can do a great many of them almost as easily as a drawing. In fact, they are really three-dimensional drawings.” Murray then works with the Lippincott foundry in North Haven, Connecticut, to produce the full-size work. The sculpture is not merely an enlargement of the maquette; the artist makes adjustments as needed during fabrication.

Murray’s earliest sheet-metal sculptures were upright columnar configurations that were made by cutting and bending steel plate, usually in strict verticals, horizontals, and right angles or half-right angles and corners. He does not use prefabricated shapes; he even starts with a flat sheet of metal and uses an industrial roller to create a curve. In 1974 Murray’s sculptures became more freely formed than before, with “crunches” and folded edges, almost like paper. This seemingly casual method of working with the material may owe a debt to the aesthetics and practice of Anthony Caro (1924–2013), whose sculptures had opened up a new spontaneity in metal sculpture in the 1960s.

The term “Chilkat” refers to the northwestern region of the aritsts’ native British Columbia, Canada. The Chilkat River flows fifty-three miles from the Chilkat Glacier to the Chilkat Inlet. The area was named for the indigenous inhabitants, a subgroup of the Tlingit people, who are renowned for their carvings and weavings.

  • <p>Robert Murray, Chilkat, 1977. Photo by Ben Aqua.</p>

Location: NHB porch

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