I have been a big fan of Gwynn Murrill's work for many years, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with it in a current show at Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach. I first wrote about it back in the 1970s, when she was carving animal shapes--cougars, coyotes--out of blocks of laminated wood. I was struck, back then, with the contrast between the lively quality of the animal forms and the outspoken artificiality of the medium. At a time when figurative art was definitely non grata, whether in painting or in sculpture, those animals seemed like a daring gesture of defiance, a thumb in the eye of mainstream approval.
Since then, Murrill has moved on to bronze and other media, but remains consistent in her focus on animal forms. She works in a variety of scales, from miniature, to reduced, to life-size. All her her creatures, though, share a common indifference to the detail of appearances: eyes, fur, individual markings and features are all absent from these remarkable sculptural forms. What she strives for is what I can best describe as the "animalness" of the animal, the essence of the creature rather than its (otherwise, likely, sentimental) individuality.
The result is not conventional animal sculpture--the kind you might find, for example, in a Frederick Remington bronze. On the contrary, Murrill's work is much closer to monochrome abstraction, in the painting world, than it is to realism. (Art meets life, below...!)
The surfaces of her bronze works are meticulous, smooth, seductive, inviting to that forbidden touch; their forms are quite simply beautiful, a delight for the eyes, even erotic in their appeal.
The artist's playfulness and curiosity show up in the miniatures...
... sketches, really, or doodles, where she feels free to experiment with a variety of materials and poses. If the work inspires awe in us for the multiplicity and beauty of natural phenomena, it invites us, more importantly, into an inner serenity, a stillness, that meditative state of simple awareness and appreciation that a work of art can induce. It's that moment, as I often suggest, when we can only say, Yes!