Martin Puryear explored a variety of media—including painting, drawing, and printmaking—before devoting himself to sculpture. As a sculptor, he has maintained an unwavering commitment to traditional building methods, working primarily in wood, but also utilizing an array of other materials, including wire mesh, tar, stone, stainless steel, and bronze. Puryear’s work is further characterized by the artist’s reliance on his hand to create his sculptures, and by his insistence on mastering his materials—often through preparatory drawings and maquettes—and dexterously translating this understanding to individual works. Puryear’s objects and public installations are a marriage of minimalist logic with traditional ways of making. A common form that occurs in Puryear’s work, the thick-looking stone bulge, is surprisingly hollow, coloring the otherwise sturdy shape with qualities of uncertainty, emptiness, and loss.
Puryear’s work is widely exhibited and collected both in the United States and internationally. 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 most significant works. Notably, the dramatically foreshortened 36-foot Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996) made from a single, split sapling ash tree.
Puryear is the recipient of numerous awards, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant, and the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture. Puryear was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 2007 and received an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1994. His work is included in the permanent collections of Museum of Modern Art, NY, The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., among others. The artist lives and works in the Hudson Valley region of New York.