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© James Surls

Audio Guide - Child

Me, the Dragon and the Sword, 1982

Artist: James Surls, American, b. 1943

Medium: Wood: Live oak and maple

73 x 29 1/2 x 34 in. (185.4 x 74.9 x 86.4 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Art Today, purchased with matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts

Object Number: 82.9

Copyright: © James Surls

Not on view

Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York, New York

Sculptor James Surls lives in Splendora, Texas, where he creates sculpture from the wood grown on his 30-acre farm. He received his BS degree from Sam Houston State College in Huntsville, Texas, in 1966, and his MFA degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1969. After twelve years of teaching at the University of Houston, Surls decided in 1982 to devote himself to making art full-time. His complex sculptures frequently begin as succinct drawings that function as blueprints for the three-dimensional work he creates by cutting, chopping, peeling, carving, whittling, burning, scoring, and joining wood to produce his fantastic beings. His sculptures are often derived from his personal experiences, and the results can be interpreted as highly charged metaphors for the artist’s personal feelings.


The aggressive sculpture Me, the Dragon and the Sword expresses an inner conflict.1 A warrior, indicated by an arm brandishing a smoothly polished sword, does battle with the roughly carved dragon, who has been stabbed in the jaw by a second sword. Three wide eyes are incised on the top of the dragon’s gnarled head, with their pupils burned into the wood. The outline of a hand has been carved into the back of the dragon’s horn, and rubbed with lead to create a black line, a small but significant indication of the warrior contained within. The tumultuous struggle is balanced on three blackened legs that mimic the dragon’s singular horn. It is left to the viewer to determine where one figure ends and the other begins. Surls also left it ambiguous as to who will win this swirling battle. Seeing himself as both warrior and dragon, he created this metaphorical struggle as a means of exploring his difficult decision to stop teaching. The artist’s personal conflict is also a poetic allegory for survival in both the natural and the man-made world.