James Surls:
“With Out, With In”

The artist’s first solo show at the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum

by Andrea Mendez
Photographs by Claire Schaper
James Surls: “With Out, With In”

James Surls is no stranger to the art scene. His career spans a 50-year period. Although he has had many exhibitions and shows in the past, “With Out, With In,” is the sculptor’s first solo exhibition in Austin at the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum, showcasing 27 of his pieces.

“I was born within the Texas myth. I almost look at it like an extenuation of the American myth. Work hard, build your own fortune, going from rags to riches, all of that stuff is kind of inherited into the Texas tradition.”

The East Texas native received his B.S. at Sam Houston State College and his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art. He taught at Southern Methodist University for 11 years before moving to Splendora, Texas with his wife Charmaine in 1997. Although Surls and his wife now reside in Carbondale, Colorado, he says that most of his pieces were created in his 12,000-square foot studio in Splendora. Most of his pieces are made out of wood, steel and bronze.

“I try to make my flowers as real as possible. I want it to look like they grew there. This is just a natural thing. You may not recognize it specifically, but you know that they grew here. To me they look alive.” Surls’ pieces are a reflection of his childhood in East Texas, growing up playing in the woods.

Although Surls’ work has been displayed in over 400 gallery exhibitions all across the world, he says he feels something of a kinship towards the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum. “There are hundreds and hundreds of those big major museums that can’t do what this place is doing. To me, this place is as unique as a place as my art is art, therefore I feel like there is a kinship.” Surls points out that the major museums don’t have the garden that the UMLAUF has, which is where some of his pieces are being showcased.

Reflecting on his artwork, Surls says that he can’t really choose his favorite piece but he does like all of the sculptures that he has made. “Why wouldn’t I like my art? That’s the whole point.”

Surls and Charles Umlauf first met when Umlauf moved to Austin. Although they knew each other, they were not really friends as they were a generation apart in age. He recalls a moment when he first saw one of Umlauf’s sculptures, “Spirit of Flight.” He was 19 at the time and through that encounter with Umlauf’s work, Surls feels a linkage and heritage running between him and Umlauf.

Surls’ exhibition “With Out, With In,” will be at the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum through August 18. Admission to the garden will be free starting June 21st through August 31st.


Read More From the Food Issue | May 2019


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