Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Snapshot of Artist James Surls

I’ve really become quite taken with the life and career of James Surls and his thoughts on experimental and alternative arts venues. He’s in a number of Suzanne Paul’s images documenting various social events and scenes.

Photo © Suzanne Paul, James Surls and Charmaine Locke and friend at the home of Marilyn Oshman, Circa 1978, 35mm b/w negative
Photo © Suzanne Paul, James Surls and Charmaine Locke and friend at the home of Marilyn Oshman, Circa 1978, 35mm b/w negative

Not only is he one of the most preeminent artists that the state of Texas has produced, Bue James Surls has helped to shape the artistic happenings in this city for, now, more than one generation and plans to continue.

The phrase “tried and true” comes to mind. He’s definitely “one of our own.” Born in East Texas, James Surls has long been held as a respected artist and dynamic art educator. He earned a B.S. at Sam Houston State College, and an M.F.A. at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

As a sculpture instructor at the University of Houston he founded the Lawndale Alternative Space for Art in 1979, today Houston’s Lawndale Art Center, and championed alternative and experimental processes and approaches to art-making.

At the time of its founding, Surls created an exhibition area within the Lawndale warehouse and programming soon-after expanded to incorporate a strong program of performances by artists in the local community and beyond.

Through the early 1980s, Lawndale operated as a university-sponsored space. Performance art and music shows drew audiences that loved the club-scene atmosphere. By 1989 the university was no longer able to support the space and the organization was forced to evolve into the independent organization which exists today.

As an artist, Surls’s output ranges from pencil drawings and prints to monumental steel and bronze sculptures and he continues to lecture about art around the country. He has been at the forefront of the contemporary sculpture scene for decades and has exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as in numerous international venues and dozens of Texas museums. His works are in the collections of major museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.

During his career Surls, with his wife Charmaine, founded an artist’s compound where they established their artists’ studios in Splendora, Texas — this space has been recently reactivated and an active program of arts in the remote location is in the works with the next event planned for February of this year. I’d recommend reading more about it and the Surls’s legacy here.

 

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Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 1.20.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Snapshot of Artist James Surls

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