Martin Puryear

McKee Gallery

When writing on Martin Puryear critics routinely refer to the two years he spent in Sierra Leone as the source of the “primitivist” strain they discern in his work. This may be well-intentioned but it is also racist. Puryear is black, but this does not necessarily give him a privileged access to the primal or the primordial. Nor is there anything primitive about the highly evolved art of West Africa. Furthermore, immediately after his sojourn in Sierra Leone he moved to Stockholm, where he studied the techniques of the world’s most sophisticated woodworkers—techniques of lamination and joinery that are the foundation of much of his art. To him the two experiences are not opposed. In Africa, he has said, “I was first exposed to people who worked with wood with any real skill”; and his sojourn in Sweden was a continuation or expansion of his interest in craftsmanship. Among other influences

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