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OU Welcomes Award-Winning Sculptor James Surls

Over the course of four decades, Surls has developed evocative, hybrid forms in wood, steel and bronze inspired by flowers, the human body, and rock formations.

NORMAN, OKLA. – Award-winning sculptor James Surls will serve as the Westheimer Distinguished Visiting Artist in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition, "James Surls," at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. Nature figures prominently in the work of Surls. Three of Surls’ sculptures are permanently installed on OU’s Norman and Health Sciences Center campuses, and the exhibition includes the temporary installation of another three outdoor works. The exhibit also includes works on display inside the museum’s Nancy Johnston Records Gallery. Surls will speak at a 6 p.m. dinner on Thursday, Oct. 1. The exhibit opens to the public Oct. 2.

Over the course of four decades, Surls has developed evocative, hybrid forms in wood, steel and bronze inspired by flowers, the human body, and rock formations. His recent work explores his previous inspirations as well as the microcosmic worlds of neurons and molecules. He has received numerous honors for his work, including the Texas Medal of Arts Awards in the Visual Arts from the Texas Cultural Trust in 2013, and he was named Artist of the Year by the American Institute of Architecture – Houston in 2012.

"James Surls," which is made possible through the endowment of the Jerome M. Westheimer Sr. and Wanda Otey Westheimer Distinguished Visiting Artist Chair, explores art as a means of bringing balance and stability to what Surls calls the “personal universe.” Selected from recent drawings and sculptures, this exhibition showcases his investigation into the natural world.

The two sculptures permanently installed on the OU Norman campus are located on the Stuart Walk, a path in honor of OU Regent Jon Stuart and his wife, Dee Dee Stuart, for their dedication in planting trees on the campus. "Big Walking Eye Flower I" (2000), a gift of OU First Lady Molly Shi Boren and OU President David L. Boren, is located near the museum’s entrance. Also nearby is "Needle Woman with Two Flowers" (2000), which was a gift to the museum from the estate of Mark Landrum and is located in front of the Jan Marie and Richard J. Crawford Music Practice Wing. At the entrance of the Stephenson Cancer Center at the OU Health Sciences Center is "Ten Big Standing Bronze Flowers."

The exhibition includes the temporary installation of three outdoor works on the northern end of OU’s Norman campus. Located on the north oval, "Walking Through the Thorn Vine" (2014) is a looping rope of stainless steel with radiating bronze thorns and a series of stylized eyes. Surls’ title suggests the experience of walking through brambles, yet the opening in the center of the sculpture invites the viewer to pass through the form visually, as though entering a portal to another reality.

"Three and Ten Flowers" (2014), located in the green space north of Boyd Street, depicts an array of 10 blossoms, each sporting three petals, organized around an octagonal frame. The result is a monumental, abstracted blossom, but with a geometry that seems vaguely molecular in character.

The largest of the outdoor sculptures, "Three Worlds Seven Rings" (2014), is installed on the western lawn of the museum. Surls constructed seven interlocking rings of stainless steel, each of which includes three orbital bodies or worlds. A steel arc extends from every world, creating another sequence of three bodies that decrease in circumference. "Three Worlds Seven Rings" refers at once to the rotation of galaxies and solar systems and to the microcosmic world of molecules and atoms.

The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is located on the corner of Elm Avenue and Boyd Street, at 555 Elm Ave., on the OU Norman campus.

Limited seating at the dinner is available by reservation for OU students, faculty and staff, with overflow seating available to the public. For reservations, more information and accommodations on the basis of disability, please call OU Public Affairs at (405) 325-3784.

Photo: "Big Walking Eye Flower I" (2000) by James Surls