by Adam Russell, via tylerpaper.com
MALAKOFF — The “art world” might revolve around cities such as New York City and Paris, but a world-renowned Texas-born sculptor plans to stir interest in East Texas.
James Surls, 69, a modernist sculptor, has shown his art in the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. He has pieces on display in museums around Texas, the nation and globe.
Surls has made his name and enjoyed critical success spanning more than four decades. He isn’t interested in critics. Public interest in art interests him, he said.
That’s why later this month, works by Surls and two other emerging regional artists — Bill Wiener and George Tobolowsky — will be on display as part of a sculpture garden memorial to Surls’ late father George at the familial ranch just outside the tiny town of Malakoff. It will be the second year for the event in this town of about 2,300 residents located just west of Athens.
“This is not for the critics. This is for me, for us, for the community,” he said.
Last week, Surls, Tobolowsky, Wiener and a handful of helpers pieced together several installations by the artists. The pieces will be on display for two years.
Carbondale, Colo., is home to Surls’ workshop. Tobolowsky, a retired accountant/attorney and former student of Surls, came from outside Dallas. Wiener, a retired architect and longtime friend of Surls, had his creations trucked in from Shreveport.
Surls looked on last week as heavy moving equipment lifted Tobolowsky’s stainless steel and steel creations “Gentleman!” and “Square Deal,” from the trailer and rested them in their respective locations.
Art is a lifestyle, he said. An artist creates whether they make money or not, he said. But luckily, he added, he’s been able to make a living.
An 18-foot tall bronze and stainless steel piece, “Molecular Bloom with Single Flower,” was commissioned by the city of Clayton, Mo., in honor of the city’s centennial this year for $400,000.
Despite international acclaim, Surls remains affably matter of fact about his roots. He quoted Satchel Paige about “not looking back” but paid respects to his past and when and where his art career took off: 1974, his first showing in Tyler.
Wiener and Tobolowsky said participation in any show alongside an artist of Surls’ caliber is a thrill. The environment embellishes the art, said Wiener, whose works are “mathematical, minimal, modular” stainless steel.
“It’s exciting to show in a rural setting,” he said. “We’re all individual artists and have our own vocabulary.”
Tobolowsky, who has four pieces on display in Tyler, including “My Signature Piece,” at the Tyler Museum of Art, said Surls has been a mentor and supporter of burgeoning artists throughout his career.
“It’s a thrill to be here and to be in a show with James,” he said. “He’s helped young and old starting artists, and anytime you can be in a show with him it’s a good thing.”
Lyn Dunsavage, president of the Greater Malakoff Area Garden Club, said having one of the top living sculptors in the nation installing art in rural East Texas is exceptional for the region.
The three-location sculpture garden tour on April 27 and 28 also includes Jim and Barbara Stewart Gardens and the Bartlett House and Heritage Gardens and benefits the garden club and its plans to restore the Bartlett House.
Surls and Tobolowsky will make a presentation during a dinner at 7 p.m. April 27 at the Malakoff Community Center. Spaces are limited and reservations are required for the dinner. Reservations can be made at www.malakofftexas.com.
The artists will be on the grounds with the sculptures during the two-day event. Other opportunities to see the sculpture gardens will be by invitation only by calling 903-489-0897 throughout the year with donations going to the garden club.
Tickets for the sculpture garden tour are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Copies of the 2013 Sculpture Gardens and Art Tour books, which feature dozens of artists and their works found around East Texas, will be available for purchase.
The Surls’ Sculpture Garden is at 11122 County Road 1201, south of Malakoff. Surls said about 600 people attended last year’s opening day. He expects the show to draw art lovers from Dallas/Fort Worth and Tyler but hopes buzz about the art and artists will draw broader interest.
The four-acre site is home to about 40 of Surls’ earlier works and those of several other sculptors.
“We all want to create and we all want to show,” he said. “We want people to see our work and we want to create interest in art. We don’t have to be in the center of the art world. Interest is interest.”