Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth TurkBorn in 1961 in California, Elizabeth Turk is an artist who does everything from sketches in ink and collages to intricate marble sculptures, which is what she's best known for. She has the amazing ability to take heavy stone and transform it into incredibly detailed patterns that are so thin they shouldn't be able to withstand their own weight, but they somehow do. She's been recognized by several institutions, resulting in her being granted the MacArthur Fellowship in 2010 and the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in 2011.
Turk works with what's not there, the negative space around her sculptures. She begins with a huge chunk of reclaimed marble, something starting at hundreds of pounds, and finishes with a delicate lattice of stone that weighs maybe 50 pounds, or even less. She has to factor gravity into her lace-like designs so that the entire piece works to support itself. Much of her work takes from nature, like the marks incoming waves make on wet sand, and many of them have multiple interpretations depending on the context.
It generally takes her around a year per sculpture, using many different tools to get the finished product, like electric grinders, files, and very small dental tools. Her earliest sculpture collection is entitled Wings (1995 to 2000) and is comprised of five life-sized broken wings carved from Yule marble. Turk placed the finished products in specially chosen locations, like a deserted elevator shaft, to bring forth a sense of loss and loneliness. In many of the photos the wings look more like abandoned creatures, left as if they're the last on the planet.
The Collars collection was began in 2011 and finished in 2006, totaling with 16 patiently crafted pieces. The different designs evoke geometric shapes, as well as organic patterns and the world's ability to self-organize chaos. Many look skeletal, resembling rib cages, while others look like coral when placed in the surf. Turk enjoyed playing with the idea of perspective, saying, "I love that idea that the context is a place where work is interpreted...just how much context influences."
Perhaps one of her most impressive collections, as if the others aren't amazing enough, is her Cages designs. The thin ribbon-like structures are simply beautiful. When looking at them, one continually forgets that they're looking at carved marble and not a lightweight material. It's in these designs that Turk's vision is really seen, which is, in her own words, a concern with the "the emptiness of matter." Mimicking braids, neuro-pathways, and time and movement through space, the Cages sculptures are more than just something to look at in passing.
Aside from the sculptures, many of Turk's other projects really grabbed us. Her Elephant project (1994-1998) was a small installation meant to have visitors experience "the fading of the largest earthbound mammal." Made up of small graphite drawings that were transferred onto Duro-clear with steel frames, the viewer would walk on grass as they experienced the room. With many hanging images of various segments of an elephant, the more people that packed into the room, the more transparent the elephant would be. The idea of population slowly smothered the mammal is one that sticks with you and must have been amazing to see in person.
Turk has a Bachelor's of Arts in Internal Relations from Scripps College in Claremont, CA, and a Masters of Fine Arts from the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore, MD. She's had several group and solo exhibitions in galleries all over the USA, including New York, California, and Washington D.C.
For more information on Turk's work visit ElizabethTurkSculptor.com.