"Although idea and form are ultimately paramount in my work, so too are chance, accident, and rawness."
The artwork of Martin Puryear is a product of visibly complex craft construction and manipulation of pure material; its forms are combinations of the organic and the geometric. His process can be described as reductive, seeking to bring work and material close to its original state and creating rationality in each work derived from the maker and act of making. This is what Puryear calls "inevitability", or a "fullness of being within limits" that defines function.
Often associated with both Minimalism and Formalist sculpture, Puryear rejects that his work is ever non-referential of objective. The pure and direct imagistic forms born from his use of traditional craft are allusive and poetic, as well as deeply personal. Visually, they encounter the history of objects and the history of their making, suggesting public and private narratives including those of the artist, race, ritual, and identity.
His work is widely exhibited and collected both in the United States and internationally. Included amongst Puryear's public works is his large-scale composition Ark (1988) which was designed for York College and can be viewed presently on the school's campus in Queens, New York. Puryear has also created several permanent outdoor works, such as Bodark Arc (1982) and Pavillion in the Trees (1993) and collaborated with landscape architects on the design of public spaces. A 30-year survey, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York and which traveled to the National Gallery of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, included installations of some of the artist's largest works, notably the dramatically foreshortened 36-foot ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996) made from a single, split sapling ash tree.