Elizabeth Turk

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Elizabeth Turk
Elizabeth Turk, artist working.jpg
Born 1961
Pasadena, California
Nationality American
Alma mater Scripps College, Rinehart School of Sculpture
Known for sculpture

Elizabeth Turk is an American sculptor who works primarily with marble, transforming this material into refined pieces infused with classical beauty.[1][2][3][4][5][6]


Turk was born in Pasadena, California in 1961, and grew up in the western United States; California, New Mexico and Colorado. Finding herself in a new locale every few years, she spent many hours looking at the natural and cultural surroundings. Some of her early visual influences included the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, CA and the Native American culture in New Mexico. She graduated from Corona del Mar High School in 1979.

Turk attended Scripps College, Claremont, CA, where she studied international relations., graduating in 1983. A college study program in Europe helped give her a larger view of life, what she calls, “an understanding of the worldwide importance of art, and the evolution of human values through art.” While in Paris, she took an elective art history course at the Louvre and traveled to other European capitals to look at art.

After completing her undergraduate studies, Turk moved to Washington D.C. to pursue a career in international relations. The Capitol, with its museums and especially the Corcoran Gallery of Art courses, became the influence that drove her to pursue sculpture as a career. In the early 1990s, she enrolled full-time in the Rinehart School of Sculpture, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, graduating in 1994.

Shortly after receiving her MFA, Turk began exhibiting her bronze sculptures in the D.C. area. An upcoming Baumgartner Gallery in that city paired her work with sculptor Louise Bourgeois whose dramatic bronze "Spider (Bourgeois)" compelled Turk to expand into a new medium. Choosing marble, she found cast-off stone from the 19th century construction of the Lincoln Memorial. Her segue to marble started her journey exploring the material’s many possibilities. She began shaping stone into objects which defy their materiality, speaking to larger spiritual issues.

Turk moved to New York City in the mid-1990s, and soon began showing her work there. Her first exhibition was at Hirschl & Adler Galleries [7] in 2000—in the show, “New York Classicism, Now”—where she continues to exhibit. After 9/11, Turk was drawn back to her roots. She soon took up her own residence in Newport, while maintaining her New York apartment. Her lifestyle, combining the best of the West and East Coasts, is her source of intellectual, philosophical and visual inspiration.

Elizabeth Turk has won several awards and grants, including: a MacArthur genius grant,[8] and the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Fellowship, both in 2010; a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) in 2011; and a Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award for artistic achievements from Arts Orange County in 2012.[9] She also won a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant in 2000. And she presented the 2011 Scripps College Commencement Address.[10]

Turk has had several solo gallery and museum exhibitions, including, "Elizabeth Turk: Sentient Forms" (2014) at Laguna Art Museum.[11] Her work is in the collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; the Weatherspoon Gallery, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She has exhibited at the Dayton Art Institute, Dayton Ohio; Ben Maltz Gallery at the Otis College of Art and Design, L.A.; Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, Claremont, CA; American Institute of Architecture, New York, N.Y.; and Japan Bank Building, Hiroshima.

Selected Exhibitions, Awards, Presentations, Residencies[edit]

Elizabeth Turk - Ribbon No. 16


  • "Elizabeth Turk: Sentient Forms," solo exhibition at Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA [12][13][14]
  • "Elizabeth Turk; Convergence" exhibition of X-Ray Mandalas at SCAPE, Newport Beach, CA [15]


  • “Elizabeth Turk: Wings," solo exhibition at Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio [16]
  • The Lotos Club, New York, NY, "Lotos Award of Distinction"






  • "Elizabeth Turk: Ribbons and Pinwheels," Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York, NY


  • Galerie Lareuse, Washington DC,[27]
  • "Elizabeth Turk: The Collars," Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York, NY


  • VantagePoint III: “Elizabeth Turk The Collars: Tracings of Thought,” Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC [28]





Turk currently works primarily with marble, and recently with photography. But she has mastered a variety of media since the late 1980s, molding forms in wax and clay; casting objects in bronze and iron; working with fragile material such as glass and porcelain; and making videos, and installations.

Turk painstakingly transforms solid 400-pound blocks of Sivec and Carrara marble into improbable shapes. Her fascination with patterns results in large, intricately latticed collars and ribbons of undulating waves, evoking both man-made and organic forms: starched lace, Elizabethan ruffs, pinwheels, flowers, even the double helix of DNA. A testament to Turk’s remarkable technical ability, the marble works are a study in contrasts—solid material appears weightless, liquid, buoyant, illustrating the tension between both the inherent strength of the stone and its fragility.

In the Hirschl & Adler 2008 catalog, “Elizabeth Turk: Recent Sculpture," she wrote “My marble sculptures are intimate, visual symbols of the mental and the physical, meditative objects for thoughts that swirl up from the pages of my sketchbooks. The work is reduced to a core—ideas, time, and physical matter. They rest on limestone bases marked with conceptual fragments—words, drawings—which, when linked, provide a rich and vast context. These markings feel at once ancient and contemporary, scientific and spiritual. The insatiable demand for “the shock of the new” has infiltrated fine art, and I have, at times, felt myself spinning like a hamster on a wheel. Though recognizably a self-imposed emotion, the lens through which I see “what is possible” is informed by today’s context. This work is not an attempt to best myself, but to honor the humble nature of physical sculpture. There is no desire to overwhelm senses or to promote viewpoints. Instead, I look to initiate conversation.

“I like difficult things. I like to measure myself. I like competition. I like to have a dialogue with something that is non-human. Stone affords a timeless conversation; it will last longer than I, no matter what I do. How is the rock shaping my hands? My shoulders? What does it do to me, while I am so focused on doing something to it? All the stone I used to create these works, found me. It has ‘baggage,’ a life before this form, a unique history. ‘Ribbon #17,’ was carved from a discarded Italian marble banister, taken from an eighteenth-century loggia in Verona. This adds depth, an unseen fragility. I give new life to old materials. I reshape the stone in extreme and contemporary ways, pushing its technical boundaries.

“My work plays with intuitive notions of gravity. As I fold the precarious strips of my ribbons, I adapt to the various restrictions in the stone that emerge unexpectedly in the course of carving. These ribbons are shaped more by the structure from which they are born than by concepts growing in a vacuum. A line. Simple folds in a blanket. My father’s sheets as they spill over the side of his bed; his blanket when sitting in a chair. If I follow the crest of the fold, I can feel the weight of his forms and the strength of gravity. There is so much emotion to describe what I see. It is not a rational viewpoint, but it is real. Yet, this is only a line that does not touch his skin. This, too, is a line of a ribbon, the edge of depth.

“What lies at the core of my work—my inspiration—is a desire to study and uncover the complexities of nature and the systems that exist already. My pursuit is one of discovery, not a competition for creating new forms for their sake alone. At the root of science, art, and religion, the purest commonalities exist, linking past, present, and future. I prefer the quest for understanding the nuances of those commonalities. I like working with stone. I like creating art not knowing exactly where the path lies. It is the reflective life, the process, which imbues meaning and answers my own longings to simply be.”''

X-Ray Mandalas[edit]

Throughout Turk’s artistic career, she has explored the complexities of nature, science and art, to understand, “the purest commonalities that link the past, present and future.” She created her most scientifically-oriented body of work, “X-Ray Mandalas,” during her Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) in 2011. At the Smithsonian Institution, she had access to its National Museum of Natural History's large collection of shells (both marble and shells are composed of calcium). She photographed individual shells several times each, using special X-Ray equipment, discovering the specimens’ symmetricality and magnificent inner structures. She turned these images into LED-lit photographs. These 3D-like photos include "Sunburst" with its snail-like shape, "Volute," like an eight-pointed star, and "Wendletrap" with delicate filigree features.


MarbleCage7-Elizabeth Turk

To create a 'Cage,’ Turk carves a single stone line to outline the interior space of a single block of marble. Suspending this marble Möbius strip above a stainless steel structure, the polished interior of the steel reflects the empty state of the block of stone. What is essential to each 'Cage' sculpture is no longer visible; it is the negative space that once was the 500 pounds of rock. The works are objects of reflection. They are about paradox, contradictory truths within the same boundaries; lightness in weight, mass in emptiness, nests in cages, simplicity within complexity, the contemporary within the traditional.[32]


The "Collars" series is built upon studies of natural patterns and systems that are strong enough to defy gravity and translate into stone matrices. The fragility of this latticework of the collars emphasizes the paradox inherent in the material. Each piece in this series was created over a period of two to four years.[33][34]


From 1995 to 2000, Turk carved a series of five life-sized broken wings, made from Yule marble originally quarried for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Three of these wings are owned by the National Museum for Women in the Arts. Turk also created installations in the wings style, in abandoned industrial environments surrounding Washington D.C. Photographs are the only records of these works.

Airplane Project[edit]

March 2003: the Airplane Project was inspired by the events of 9/11. Turk created a non-denominational chapel; this white room featured a projection of paper airplanes that became a moving collage, while dominating the far wall. She filled the space with a field of candles that were held by bronze, semi-melted figures atop long rods, which grew from broken concrete. An audio of barely audible chanting enhanced the spirituality of this installation.[35]

Crane Project[edit]

From 2000 to 2002, Turk collaborated with Kirara Kawachi to create Crane Project at Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, CA. The work consisted of two videos displayed side by side. Over the course of two months, the artists worked, lived and created video footage together. The raw tapes were then edited individually by Turk in the U.S., and by Kawachi in Japan. The work evokes friendships and simple humanity, in the face of cultural divides. Kawachi and the Crane Project were awarded the L'Oreal Art and Science Prize in Tokyo in 2002. The videos were also shown in the Japan Bank Building, Hiroshima in 2003.

New York City Manhole Covers[edit]


In 2000, Turk designed 87 replacement manhole covers for Wolfe's Pond Park in Staten Island, New York. Her designs combine the imagery of a Great Blue Heron and an Osprey, as well as plant life on Staten Island, particularly the Staten Island Bluebelt, a natural wetland area that environmentalists are struggling to protect. These covers were forged in New Jersey and installed in 2001.[36][37]


  1. ^ Liz Goldner [1] STONER: ELIZABETH TURK “Artist Brings New Life to Old Materials,” Artillery, November 2014.
  2. ^ Laura Bleiberg [2] “From Marble to Ribbons, Cages, and Collars,” Orange Coast, September 2014.
  3. ^ Evan Senn [3] “The Marvelous Marble of Elizabeth Turk,” KCET.org, 16 October 2014.
  4. ^ TedX Atlanta [4] Elizabeth Turk: Creativity, 2011.
  5. ^ Rachel Wolff [5] “Finding Strips of Ribbon in Chunks of Stone,” The Wall Street Journal, 22 June 2012.
  6. ^ Mila Pantovich [6] “Artist Elizabeth Turk Crafts Intricate Marble Sculptures,” JustLuxe, 18 July 2012.
  7. ^ Hirschl & Adler Galleries, about [7] retrieved March 10, 2015.
  8. ^ Tom Legro [8] “Conversation: Sculptor Elizabeth Turk” Jeffrey Brow Transcript, PBS NewsHour, 29 October 2010.
  9. ^ Arts Orange County past award winners [9] retrieved March 10, 2015.
  10. ^ Scripps College 2011 Commencement Address [10] Elizabeth Robbins Turk ’83, “What is True in Permanent Change?” 15 May 2011.
  11. ^ Laguna Art Museum announcement [11] Elizabeth Turk: Sentient Forms, October 2014.
  12. ^ Daniella Walsh [12] “Elizabeth Turk,” ArtScene, November 2014.
  13. ^ Natalie M. Goldman [13] “‘Elizabeth Turk: Sentient Forms’ At The Laguna Art Museum: An Intricate Study Of Mathematical Principles In The Natural World,” SciArt in America, 1 September 2015.
  14. ^ Dave Barton [14] “‘Elizabeth Turk: Sentient Forms' Swirls Around the Laguna Art Museum,” OC Weekly, 4 December 2014.
  15. ^ Liz Goldner [15] Elizabeth Turk: “Convergence" at SoCal Art Projects and Exhibitions,” Art Ltd., March 2014.
  16. ^ Dayton Art Institute announcement [16] Elizabeth Turk: Wings, October 2013.
  17. ^ Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award [17] Arts Orange County, retrieved March 10, 2015.
  18. ^ Betty Ann Brown [18] "Meticulosity" at Ben Maltz Gallery, Art Ltd., September 2012.
  19. ^ Vienna McGrain [19] “Award-Winning Sculptor Artist Elizabeth Turk can turn 700 pounds of marble into lace,” RIT University News, 24 April 2012.
  20. ^ Caroline Werner Gannett Project Lecture Series [20] RIT, 16 May 2012.
  21. ^ Hirschl & Adler exhibition announcement [21] Elizabeth Turk: Cages, March 2012.
  22. ^ Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) [22] Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  23. ^ Jim Sykes [23] “Elizabeth Turk Named 2010 MacArthur Fellow: The National Museum of Women in the Arts' Blog, 17 June 2012.
  24. ^ MacArthur Award Announcement [24] “Scripps College Alumna Elizabeth Turk ’83 Awarded MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’” 28 September 2010.
  25. ^ Lux Artist in Residence [25] Elizabeth Turk, Resident Artist, September–October 2009.
  26. ^ Wendy Fry [26] “Artist Elizabeth Turk On Exhibit At Lux Art Institute, KPBS.org, 1 October 2009.
  27. ^ Elizabeth TurK [27] Poetry Book, June 2012.
  28. ^ Mint Museum Announces Elizabeth Turk Exhibition [28] “Elizabeth Turk: The Collars, Tracings of Thought,” October 2004.
  29. ^ Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College [29] Matter and Matrix exhibition announcement, November 2003.
  30. ^ Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College [30] Reprint of Elizabeth Turk article, April 2008.
  31. ^ NYC Art Commission [31] Elizabeth Turk: New York City Sewer Covers, 2000.
  32. ^ Hirschl & Adler Exhibition [32] March 2012.
  33. ^ Leah Ollman [33] "Revealing the heart of stone. Los Angeles Times, 11 July 2004
  34. ^ Laura Janku [34] "Elizabeth Turk: The Collars, Sculpture Magazine, September 2006.
  35. ^ Elizabeth Turk: Airplane [35] Publisher: Elizabethturksculptor.com, 25 April 2003.
  36. ^ NYC Art Commission [36] Elizabeth Turk: New York City Sewer Covers, 2000.
  37. ^ David W. Dunlap [37] "When City Hall Smiles on Public Art," The New York Times, 26 April 2001.

External links[edit]