Herrin at ADA Gallery with two of his creations. Left is a 6-foot untitled sculpture from wood. Right is another piece purchased by Lance Armstrong. Sarah Walor photo
The selectors said: Here is a new voice as a sculptor/woodcrafter. His amazingly crafted, lifelike wood sculptures are incredibly distinctive.
Morgan Herrin, a native of Dallas, describes his artistic career as part of a "knack for rendering." His parents came from the sciences, a physicist and a paleontologist. Herrin recalls as a child going to digs for dinosaur bones, and visits to natural history museums where figures of early men and beasts were displayed. "It's so difficult now," he says of his craft. "It's been lost for a couple of generations. I never had any professors [who did] that. Maybe they were taught figurative stuff, but they didn't pass it down. It's a lost art that I wish I [had] picked up earlier and gotten more instruction."
While attending Virginia Commonwealth University's arts school, Herrin worked as a carpenter for film and television productions, including the HBO miniseries John Adams. He observed the rough shape of veteran carpenters on the set, with their blown-out knees and crippled hands. "It's a tough career and you might not work half [of the] year, so you make it up with the other half."
While a graduate student at Ohio State University, he went to Rome, where he was surrounded by sculpture that looked like people, not abstractions. Until then, he'd worked with polystyrene foam, making pieces that resembled more permanent, solid materials. Since he was a carpenter, a transition to making figures from wood seemed natural enough.
His material is two-by-fours purchased from a hardware store or lumberyard. "It's almost a growing thing depending on the conditions, and it kind of has a mind of its own," Herrin muses. "Especially pine. It's important to let that happen, to let the material do what it wants."
Herrin's subjects, while figurative, appear to represent elements of a lost mythology. The art survived, but the story did not.
The chief model for his work is his wife, Katie. She provided the inspiration for the nude female figure holding a sword with an octopus clinging to her face, the sculpture Lance Armstrong bought when John Pollard of ada Gallery took it to the Art Basel exhibitions fair in Miami.
These days, Herrin, also a VCU adjunct professor, is contemplating the elaborate suits of armor in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Things made with "superhuman craftsmanship" fascinate him. He sometimes considers making a figure on a gigantic scale: "That would be a goal. But I'd have to hire helpers."