For Elizabeth Turk, the process of making art is an act of devotion.
“I think I use my art — and especially the process of stone carving — as a place to get into meditative state,” said the sculptor responsible for the exhibit titled Wings, opening this weekend at the Dayton Art Institute.
Turk defines this type of devotion as an earnestness and commitment to something larger than herself.
“In most religions, there is something recurring like beads or a mantra,” she explained. “For me, art is where I go to organize my mind. It quiets me and calms me; it’s more of a spiritual dialogue with my material.”
Three of the five marble wings she created on the eve of the millennium are now showcased in their own gallery at the Dayton museum. They’re carved from abandoned remnants of marble blocks originally cut for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The “Wings” are dramatically displayed and shown along with a series of Turk’s drawings and collages.
“I was looking for symbols for the end of the 1900s and looking to the year 2000,” explained Turk, who says she eventually came up with the concept of a “pile of stone wings.”
Becoming an artist
Although everyone in her family had always encouraged her to become an artist, Turk said she resisted until her twenties.
“Art had always been my refuge, but I’d never thought of it as a career or a way to make a living,” she admitted. “But I tried other things, and I just could not not do art; it truly is a passion. I came to it through default.”
The “Wings” sculptures, created when she finished graduate school, represent her first work in marble. They took eight years to complete.
“I worked in a passionate fury on the first one. I greatly underestimated the time it would take,” Turk said, adding that she had to finish the first sculpture in time for an exhibition. ” I had no idea what I was doing, but thankfully I just jumped in. I would have never done it if I realized how much work it would take.”
Turk, who came to Dayton for this weekend’s art opening, says the material seduced her.
“I loved the challenge and the history of it — both geologically and art historically,” she says.
Whether it’s her art or her home, Turk says she is constantly “jumping around.”
While she feels comfortable working with three dimensional forms, she says she’s also intrigued by modern technology and “absolutely loves to draw.” That’s very much in evidence in the series of collage-like drawings on display with her sculptures.
“My preliminary drawings aren’t blueprints. They are drawings that occur while I’m carving,” she explained. “And how can someone not enjoy using all this modern technology?”
Turk, 52, jumps around to various cities as well — she currently makes her home in three places: New York, Atlanta and Southern California.
More About “Wings”
The marble used to make the “Wings” pieces had been discarded, says Turk, who found the stone deteriorating in Takoma Park, Md.
“They are not perfect stones; they had moss growing in them and had cracks,” she explained. “But I liked that because they carried a sense of legacy. I liked the idea that they were originally cut for something else and were already part of a different story.
“They are a link to the past because they became a memorial and had something to do with Washington, D.C. I started working on them in 1994, so I was thinking of the end of the century, and that memorial was created at the end of the last century.”
Turk determined to keep the outside dimensions of the original blocks of marble. The concept of the wings was partly inspired by artist Albert Durer and also by one of her favorite sayings.
“I’ve always been a fan of Durer, and the “Wing of the Blue Roller” is one of my favorite drawings,” she said. “I was also inspired by the saying ‘God gives wings to those who can’t fly.” And there’s a platonic idea that winged creatures came down to earth and their wings fell off and got stuck.”
Concludes Turk: “It all resonated with me because of our flaws. We are hopeful yet flawed beings.”