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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© James Surls
American, born 1943
I Am Building with the Axe, the Knife, and the Needle's Eye
Hickory, oak, pine, padouk, and mahogany

160 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Duke Energy

Arts of North America

Throughout his career, James Surls has explored the dynamic balance between life and death, creation and destruction. Surls spent many years of his life in East Texas, and he drew inspiration from the landscape of the Piney Woods that surrounded his studio in Splendora, north of Houston.  

The 13-foot-tall I Am Building with the Axe, the Knife, and the Needle's Eye is constructed out of a variety of wood that Surls was able to gather in the forests around his studio. The combination of these found elements (such as the inverted tree trunk that forms the figure's body) and the more finely worked tools emphasizes Surls' interest in the dynamics between nature and culture. The twisting forms that define the head and feet evoke the physical powers of a tornado and the frenetic energy of the artist as creator. Ultimately, the sculpture is a self-portrait of the artist at work.