American/Australian artist Marr Grounds is a sculptor and pioneer of environmental and ‘habitable’ art. He also lectured in architecture and was instrumental in establishing the Tin Sheds workshop at the University of Sydney in the late 1960s.
Born in Los Angeles, USA, in 1930, Marr is the son of renowned Australian architect Sir Roy Grounds. He spent his childhood living between Australia and America. During the Korean War, from 1951 to 1955, he served in the US Navy. After the war Grounds enrolled in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkley, where he initially trained in architecture, graduating in 1965. This was followed by a master of arts in sculpture in 1966. Berkeley in this period was at the centre of the counter-culture and Grounds hung out with some of its key figures including Ken Kesey. He also started his own commune. ‘We lived in the sculptures we made, had lots of car parties,’ he recalled in an interview in 2015 for the Art Gallery of NSW archive.
In 1966 Grounds moved to Ghana with his then-wife Joan Grounds to take up a position lecturing in architecture at the University of Kumasi. He was then offered a job by Robin Boyd at the University of Sydney, lecturing in the architecture department in 1968. Soon after arriving, he and Donald Brook were involved in setting up the Tin Sheds at the university. Founded as an alternative laboratory for producing artwork, the Tin Sheds became a hotbed of art, music, ideas and politics.
Grounds exhibited work in the Mildura Sculpture Triennials in 1973, 1975 and 1978 and held his first solo exhibition, Morphological structures, at Watters Gallery in 1975.
In 1976 he was included in the Biennale of Sydney at the Art Gallery of New South Wales with a work that included a sandbag bunker built under a staircase at the Gallery. Together with his two dogs Mutt and Pete, Grounds ‘inhabited’ the bunker where visitors could contribute to his evolving participatory installation by engaging in conversation with him. Entry into the artwork also involved a ritual in which a small folded card called an ‘art bit’ was smeared with glue and covered in sand, leaving a unique shape; both the artist and the visitor then signed it. A screenprint related to the installation, Second art-bit installation, is in the Gallery’s collection.
Grounds also showed in the first Australian Perspecta in 1981.
He has travelled widely and undertaken residencies in Paris, Berlin and New York. In recent years, he has lived on a property near Tanja on the south coast of New South Wales in a house with an environmental design that reflects his long and deeply held principles. His work – which he has described as ‘an in-your-face materials art, with ideas’ – is represented in major Australian public collections.