Barbara A. MacAdam
Jonathan D. Lippincott on Sculptor Robert Murray
In a public-art sculpture, the Post-Minimalist sculptor Robert Murray explains in an interview in Robert Murray: Sculpture, a new monograph by art director, curator, and designer Jonathan D. Lippincott (Design Books), “What you want is for the piece to look convincing, like it was meant to be there, and not just plunked down and left. In an ideal situation you work with an architect and integrate the sculpture into the site plan at the very beginning. The important thing is that the opinions of each person are being respected.”
Murray is clear and plainspoken, and always ready with unexpected twists and insights, just as his work is. Born and raised in Canada, he brought that culture to bear on the cutting-edge American creative landscape in the 1960s and ’70s in New York, with friends and mentors who included the likes of Barnett Newman and David Smith.
Elucidating the evolution of Murray, the sculptor, and the nature of life in Canada and New York at a time when abstraction was dominating the landscape, is a text by Lippincott, whose father founded the eponymous sculpture fabrication company.
Murray’s sculpture is explored in photographs dominated by saturated colors and assertive shapes. The large, uncanny primary-colored sculptures bridge hard-edge and slightly crumpled steel forms.
With pictures of nearly 200 works that quietly converse with the history of modern art, including the paintings of Newman, Matisse, and Stuart Davis, we are given a broad overview of Murray’s concerns—his process, materials, and inspirations. And in a long and insightful discussion with Murray, Lippincott extracts insights into the nature and readings of sculpture. At the same time, Lippincott provides a social document, revealing the lives and concerns of the times. Like many of his cohorts, Murray is particularly interested in flying and, as in the work of the late David von Schlegell and Steve Poleskie, we can perceive the suggestion of motion and the awe inspired by the breadth of landscape, a sense of a romantic minimalism.
Back on the ground, Murray speaks about the tipi structure made by Native people in Saskatchewan. The tipi is an architectural form that inspired many of Murray’s own sculptures in clay, leather, and later bronze. Murray said, “I suppose a lot of my work has ended up having an interior and an exterior aspect to it: in some cases you can get into a sculpture to explore it, and in other cases you walk around the piece and see it from afar. That dialogue between those two experiences really tells you what the piece is about, and the tipi form becomes less important.”