Setting his roots in the historic town of Woodstock, New York, this sculptor never compromises on his visions
“I am in the studio six days a week,” says Christopher Kurtz. “After years of going after a seat at the table, it really is going very well. This career is about compulsion, not just talent or luck. You can’t have a plan B.”
His cabinets, with doors of wood so finely carved that they look like fabric, and Skipping Stone tables, with polished wooden tops placed on columns composed of smooth, wooden “pebbles”, are products of both his sculptor’s eye and his mastery of craft. Now working almost entirely to commission (Sarah Myerscough, the London gallerist, has proved a particularly adept advocate), the waiting list for Kurtz’s work has become long.
Kurtz studied landscape design and sculpture, and found a job assisting the artist Martin Puryear, whose large-scale abstract outdoor works are layered with historical and cultural references from many places. “I saw someone who worked without compromise,” says Kurtz, 47. “His work is so sophisticated, yet his studio is quite humble. He is as potent in poetry as he is in making. I left him with the confidence that I could make anything I wanted, to the very highest level. And I knew how to behave in the world.”
Puryear brought Kurtz to the Hudson Valley, where he has remained for 20 years, bringing up his daughter as a single parent. “My studio is in Woodstock, which is layered with culture. Philip Guston painted here. Bob Dylan recorded his most famous tracks in the Pink House, which is nearby.”
While assistants come and go—“they come, but in a slightly touristic way, and don’t stay long”—Kurtz admits that the astonishing light and the beauty of the Hudson River make this a wonderful place to be. “But I’ve probably stayed more because it’s easier to get materials here. It’s tricky just getting a sheet of plywood in New York City. And it’s more affordable to have the larger space that I need here,” he says. “There are a lot of professional artists around. You can throw a rock and hit a MacArthur genius here no problem.”
Kurtz travels into the city once or twice a week for business. “I have meetings with architects and upholsterers all the time. I find comfort in grids and joinery and woodworking,” he says. “It’s not about living upstate and doing craft. That’s folly. The deadlines are just as real. Even in Woodstock.”