James Surls' "Complete Fragment"

Apr 12, 2019

The Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Lubbock will be getting a new piece of public art next week. “Complete Fragment” will be installed by its creator and a crew that will need heavy equipment to set the large, three-piece sculpture in front of one of three new building nearing completion.

Emily Wilkinson, the director of the Texas Tech System’s public art program, says the piece, which is the system’s 130th since 1998, is the collection’s first by Texas native James Surls, an internationally recognized and collected American artist.

“I feel like not having him in our collection has been kind of a big hole comprehensively. We have a lot of artists, a lot of great artists, but to have such a great sculpture right here in Texas that we hadn’t had yet was one of those thing where we needed to have James Surls. He’s applied before and been a finalist before, but I think it just took finding the right project for him,” Wilkinson says.

The three bronze and stainless-steel sculptures that make up “Complete Fragment” are big. One is 8 feet by 9’ feet by 10 feet. Another is 9.5 feet by 8 feet by 11 feet and the third is 11 feet by 12 feet by 18 feet.

Each piece represents the origin of life through the depiction of molecules, as well as growth as represented by flowers. The three separate pieces are meant to create one whole piece, allowing the viewer to stand in the middle of the site and view a sculpture from any angle.

“I think he looks more at the human side of healthcare, so, of course the molecules have that science component, but the flowers themselves are almost a gesture to the community. Flowers are seen as something that you really use in big times in your life—celebration, sympathy, congratulations—and you see a lot of that when you enter a hospital.”

The sculptures will be part of a landscaped park space in front of University Center, one of three new health sciences center buildings paid for by $85 million in Tuition Revenue Bonds approved by the Texas Legislature in 2015.

Wilkinson says a call for submissions for this location brought in hundreds of replies from artists. Surls was selected in February 2018.

“He really got after it. We have an aggressive timeline in our pieces usually. We like to get it installed about the same time the building opens and we throw that expectation out when they’re applying right up front,” she says.

Each art piece across the system is funded using 1 percent of the estimated total cost of new major capital projects or renovations. That brought $850,000 for use in the system’s public art program at the health sciences center.

A second piece of public art for the trio of buildings is “Pulse,” which is on a wall inside. It’s a digital art piece showing a beating heart whose rate rises and falls according to the number of people coming and going from the building.

Surls’ large sculpture will be lit.

“Usually the artist supplies the actual light fixtures and the person to connect them and then the landscaping budget gets the power to the sculpture area, so it’s kind of a team effort. Part of that is that an artist is going to know the best way to light his sculpture and the best lighting that they can use for it.”

The system's Public Art Program was initiated by the Board of Regents in 1998 as an investment in the campus environment at its four component institutions and an extension of Texas Tech's educational mission.

“We like to keep them involved and let them know what’s happening, but really they seem to enjoy what we’re doing with public art and are really helpful in talking about it and making sure people know that we’re doing this program.”

Surls will give an artist talk at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Tuesday. He’ll begin to install “Complete Fragment” early Monday.