Few sculptors would try to tame a 400-pound block of marble. For Elizabeth Turk ’94 (Rinehart School of Sculpture), it’s just another day in the office. Or, in her case, the quarry. Her ability to turn marble into lacework structures that seemingly defy gravity caught the attention of the MacArthur Foundation, which awarded her a $500,000 fellowship. She was part of a 2011 class of fellows that included a biophysicist, a historian, an anthropologist, a jazz musician, and a quantum astrophysicist. The three criteria used when selecting fellows are exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.
While on MICA’s campus to receive the 2011 Alumni Award, Turk offered observations on various issues. She also stated that her past accomplishments are simply a prologue for what’s to come.
What Motivated Her to Sculpt
“Art has been my refuge. I love the curiosity that a life of art affords you. I think there is something about the repetition of action that I find very soothing. I love the physicality of it, and it allows me to marry curiosity and physical practice. So it was a perfect fit.”
What Attracted Her to MICA
“It was the best school around. Because I did not have an undergraduate fine arts degree, I wanted to learn the vocabulary that artists use and to really be in a creative setting or environment. MICA was perfect.”
Her Artistic Approach
“It’s like people. My approach is different than traditional stone carving. I don’t hammer. It’s more like drawing, but it’s also like I’m in a conversation with someone or slowly having somebody enter your life. You begin very gently. I don’t ever create a model and then have at it. Because there is such a small amount of material left, if there is a fissure, I have to take heed of that. And it’s sort of like with a person. You don’t come charging in with your impression of how the relationship is going to be. [If you do,] it will fall apart. It won’t work. And it’s the same with the stone. It’s slow, getting to know how far it will go and what space I can empty out. It’s hardened space. What’s important about my work is what is not there. What’s not there is what gives it the weight; it’s what conveys the patience. It’s the reverse of an additive process.”
How MICA Prepared Her for Later Challenges
“[Instructor] Norman Carlberg gave us a platform where one could test one’s abilities. It was a wonderful experience for self-discovery, with the criticism and the kind of open studio format that Rinehart allowed us. It gives a wonderful sense of community. It was a wonderful time for me to see my work through very different eyes, and I had no idea it communicated some of the things I was told it communicated. So in that sense, you develop a better skill set. One’s alphabet was greatly refined here. You could come out with work that spoke to content in a very thorough way.”