Monday, May 23, 2011

Ladder for Booker T. Washington

“Ladder of Life”
Painted in 1996, Martin Puryear put much meaning behind his work in the, “Ladder for Booker T. Washington.” Martin Puryear’s work titles can be best described as metaphors that expand rather than limit the meaning of his work as stated from, “picturing America.” Born in 1941 in Washington D.C., Martin Puryear grew up struggling to battle with racial equality because of his African American background. Puryear’s work is often very sophisticated and is involved with visual, sculptural ideas, such as oppositions of natural and geometric, stability and mobility and positive and negative space. Often compared to a minimalist, Puryear also held many more important skills such as simple organic shapes which also possess a human, handmade quality. In his 20’s, Martin attended an art academy in Scandinavia because of their woodcraft tradition. Later becoming more interested in woodcraft, Puryear returned to the US to study and receive a master’s of fine arts degree at Vale University. This interest in woodcraft has shown Puryear that art is not only made from his hands but also his heart and mind. Drawing in his interest of woodcraft into his artwork, led Puryear to the completion of “Ladder for Booker T. Washington” in 1996. Puryear’s Ladder reflects handcraft techniques he learned abroad while studying in West Africa and Scandinavia. As stated by “picturing America”, Puryear’s sculpture represents that of the life of the man for whom it is named after. The crooked, yellow, suspended ladder in the painting would relate to the life of Booker T. Washington. Born into slavery in 1856 in the Piedmont region of Virginia, Washington grew up in a very rough life, struggling to gain racial equality. The crooked, suspended ladder suggests that Washington had a rough, challenging life and that the only way to overcome this was to walk over all the problems before him. The dark shadows and walls help to give the viewer the idea that Booker T. Washington was trapped, in pain and couldn’t get out. The blue sky and light at the top of the painting give him hope as if this is the way out. Freedom is the essential goal and a new life is awaiting him on the other side of the wall.

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