The High Museum of Art
has organized and premiered "The Sculpture of Grainger McKoy," a major exhibition dedicated to artist Grainger McKoys sculptures of birds. The exhibition features 34 small- to large-scale sculptures and several related models and color sketches produced over the course of his career, which spans from the early 1970s until the present. The installation also explores McKoys artistic process, showcasing a selection of mixed-media works in a variety of stages from raw sketches to finished sculptures, as well as graphics and a film of the artist at work in his studio. "The Sculpture of Grainger McKoy" will be on view exclusively at the High from September 25, 2011, through January 8, 2012.
"For nearly four decades Grainger has distinguished himself in the field of wildlife art, carving works of remarkable realism," stated Michael E. Shapiro, the Highs Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., Director. "His sculpture is finely rendered and artistically designed, challenging popular conceptions of wildlife art. These exquisitely life-like sculptures represent true innovation in the field of bird sculpture."
Unlike many sculptors of wildlife art, McKoy hand carves individual feathers and inserts them into place-a technique he introduced more than four decades ago. His complex compositions-hallmarks of his work-appear to defy gravity as groupings of birds lift into flight. Like others before him, such as the artist/naturalist John James Audubon (17851851), McKoys sculptures focus on the dynamics of avian behavior as inspiration―birds feeding, flocking, fleeing danger or fighting. McKoys highly realistic representations of birds are made of basic materials such as wood, metal, and paint. In his earliest work McKoy also includes reference to the environmentgrasses, mud, sandto further the naturalistic illusion.
Experimentation has always been central to McKoys approach. In early trials with birds in motion, he drew upon the drama of the natural cycle of life, focusing on struggles such as two hawks battling a copperhead snake or clapper rails fighting for a crab. His later works streamline context and setting, and often focus on specific elements such as a single feather or wing instead of an entire bird. McKoy continues to investigate new methods and concepts. His use of metal casting introduced the possibility of significantly adjusting the scale of a sculpture without losing the details so important to his work. Individual details themselves, such as a wing, a talon, a feather, have become finished sculptures. McKoy has made a single wing, as in his series of "Recovery Stroke" sculptures, as expressive and symbolically evocative as a grouping of birds in battle over their prey.
An observer of nature and a hunter from an early age, Grainger McKoy received a gift of an antique duck decoy from his grandmother one Christmas. From this he was inspired to sculpt his first bird, a shorebird carved of cypress from the corner of his familys log cabin in rural South Carolina. McKoy studied architecture for a few years in college but he never abandoned his first love: carving. His skills were recognized by the innovative bird carver Gilbert Maggioni of Beaufort, South Carolina, who convinced McKoy that he might try to make a living from carving. Upon graduating from Clemson University in 1970 with a degree in zoology, McKoy moved to Beaufort with his wife Floride to pursue his passion under the tutelage of Maggioni. Unlike most decoy carvers, however, McKoy and Maggioni strove for extreme realism. McKoy also used his knowledge of architecture to create complex, gravity-defying structural compositions, the likes of which had never before been seen in wildlife sculpture.