James Surls

born Terrell, TX 1943
Terrell, Texas, United States
Active in
  • Splendora, Texas, United States

James Surls’s father was a carpenter who taught his son how to plant and to make use of the trees that surrounded their East Texas home. Surls and his brother cleared their parents’ farm by chopping down hundreds of trees, and now he carves these into organic forms that call to mind the tangled forests of his youth. He considers himself a “being of the woods” and believes that every tree has a spirit that lives within it. Surls develops the idea he wants to express, goes into the forest and finds a piece of wood that suggests that concept, and then shapes the branches accordingly. He believes that each sculpture is like a book, with marks and shapes that can be read as words with distinct meanings (Marlborough Gallery press release, January 21, 1994). Branches, for example, could be arms and legs, while flowers may be hands and trunks might represent torsos.