View of installation

Michael Murrell

City Gallery East


Sculptor Michael Murrell shapes metaphors. Causing wood and metal to bloom, fly, sail, and pray, he coaxes the animistic essence from his materials. ln “Sanacenia” at City Gallery East, he creates quietly abstract interpretations of nature and the body that comment on our relationship with the world.

A long-time artist and teacher, Murrell is considered a major contributor to the Atlanta art scene. The vessels, crosses, and figures that he shapes resonate with his mastery of dimensional media. The viewer’s first impression of his work is transcendent – the lyrical flight of 33 carved crows suspended above an array of smooth-lined, well-finished objects and assemblages. His sculptures not only hang from the ceiling, but rise from the floor and extend from gallery walls at well-spaced intervals that often make their encounter a spiritual experience.

A recent residency at the Fine Arts Academy of Warsaw in Poland generated his concept for Eyes, a 120-by-160 inch wall installation. Close to 100 Pairs of eyes look out from rows and rows of curved tin rectangle faces. Describing the importance of eyes for communication (especially for an artist unfamiliar with the Polish language), the work refers to the countless religious reliquaries he observed on his visit to a Polish monastery. When considered in a global context, the expansive study of Eyes might as easily denote the Power of African fetishes or Latin American milagros.

A row of bulls’ heads along one wall suggests Munells affinity with outsider artists and African maskmakers, as well as with artists like Picasso. The assembled sculptures use driftwood, rusty metal, chair legs, and glass fragments to imply the elemental shapes of head, horns, and eyes. One that is all white with long bent chair leg horns resembles a bleached skull.

Michael Murrell, Sarracenia, 1999. epoxy resin, 103 x 58 x 56 in.

The dark sensuality of Black Shield is described by the center slit in its 24-by-11-inch arch of iron black wood. Fecundity appears as a wall-mounted womb woven in heavy copper wire. Munell fills the almost seven-foot-tall vessel with green, Yellow, and pumpkin painted gourds Lotus, one of his most serene works, floats quietly along the floor in one corner. Discretely melding clear spruce wood and pigment, the sculpture forms a series of large pale blooms. The wood grain emphasizes the radiating growth of their rounded, undulating leaves.

The exhibition’s namesake, Sarracenia, makes an entirely synthetic notation on the state of nature. Sarracenia is the genus name of an imperiled pitcher plant. Here, five fleshy blossoms, made of translucent epoxy resin, rise up nine feet from the gallery floor. Their toxic beauty is unearthly and disquieting.

No Place Wild, the most unrestrained and literal work in the show, punctuates its ending. Murrell throws away his minimal aesthetic to assemble his personal ecological statement. A walking stick carved at one end with the name “Roam” Pokes out from a wide-woven globe of wild grapevine and steel. Piling up
inside and spilling onto the gallery floor is a heap of assorted foot-weary shoes-the artist’s despairing observation of our diminishing wilderness. Through this and other symbolic sculptures, Murrell evokes the consummate power and universality of his vision.

-Cathy Byrd