Joe Brubaker transforms wood and found materials in Lost and Found at Seager Gray Gallery
Seager Gray Gallery, Mill Valley, presents Lost and found, an exhibition of carved wood and assembled found materials by Bay Area artist, Joe Brubaker. The exhibition runs from December 8, 2015 to January 10, 2016. A reception for the artist will take place on Saturday, December 19 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. The exhibition is accompanied by a full color catalog available through the gallery.
Joe Brubaker carves wood and assembles found materials to create figurative and abstract sculptures that reflect his concerns with time and the ongoing process of loss and discovery. The title of the exhibition, Lost and Found, refers not only to the materials, the blocks of wood and found objects that are transformed into sculpture, but to the characters he creates, each with its own story to tell. Brubaker has hit his stride in this exhibition which includes many works that could be considered seminal. Among them, Leopold, a descendent of Brubaker’s previous exhibition, The Long Voyage.
Leopold, whose name translates as “lion” or “of bold people” sits astride the framework of a boat, his legs out straight and his gaze intense and facing forward. On his head is a rusted crown and he wears a lead vest around his torso with antique car horns at the back. The sense is of the beginning of a voyage – a quest of some kind. Associations abound and the piece becomes a mythic symbol of the hero’s journey, of everyone’s journey. What is most striking about the piece is the expression on the figure’s face. His eyes are wide, dark and reflective, aware of the perils ahead yet resolute. As a metaphor of the human condition, the sculpture is poignant. The craft is small, just large enough to fit the solitary figure and the meager protections suggest both readiness and vulnerability.
Other important works include Diego and Frida. The figures stand about three quarter human size, straight and regal with their hands down at their sides. This impressive pair finds its origins in American and Meso American folk art and assemblage. Frida sports an enviable aline skirt made out of sheet metal and chains become an elaborate bib necklace. Diego has a black cap/crown topped with a gold ball. These fully wood-carved works, along with the large and impressive Armando, the diminutive strongman, Sergio and the series of small carved figures mounted on white elongated plinths that attach to the wall – Jolene. Lucy. Louie and Henry – represent one example of Brubaker’s visual vocabulary. His facility in moving from pure wood carving to the more found-materials based characters reminiscent of his Somnambulist series illustrates the comfort level with which the artist moves between means of expression from pure figuration to abstract figuration to pure abstraction.
Lucas, for instance is an amazing transition piece that works both as a figure and an abstract combination of elements. Brubaker plays with the expectations of the viewer in presenting these figures in imaginative forms. They become playful and otherworldly. The viewer is able to respond physically to these abstract works because they remain figures. Lucas’ elongated arm and forward stride, leg bent back can be felt in the body as much as seen. Other works in this series include Joey Boy, Julio, Robert and Tom. That same physical sensations occurs when we observe the wheel at the base of Julio and Robert.
Artist Chuck Close once said, Sculpture occupies real space like we do... you walk around it and relate to it almost as another person or another object. In his purely abstract series, Mojave, Brubaker transforms pure painting into object, bringing it into our physical space. The artist bows a head to Louise Nevelson replacing black with white, but the works have a decidedly Brubaker aesthetic in his love of incorporating surprising materials and in the way each element is given room to breathe. Other abstract works, like James (Looking) and Pasquale’s Room place figures within an abstract plane creating an inhabited alternative space.
The last completed work for the exhibition is the large wall sculpture,Valentine. This elegant framework piece is more reminiscent of Martin Puryear, whose work has an emphasis on primary structures and a dedication to craft. (see inset image.) The entire structure of the work can be seen – inside and out - with its pleasing curves and patina of time. It might be reminiscent of modernist sculpture, simple in shape like Brancusi or Arp, but also of African sculpture, carpentry and shipbuilding.
In all of Brubaker’s explorations, it is the details that draw us in – the way a head might tilt, or a pipe becomes an arm, the finishes and constructions of forms and the orchestration of materials. He has been at this for a long time at this point his ease and mastery of materials is evident, allowing him to explore new concepts and revisit old ones with his characteristic curiosity, freshness and sense of discovery.