Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Master's Work


Isn’t it odd that just when you are feeling really good about the work that you do, someone else comes along and does it way so much better? Crushing, isn’t it? That is the point where I pick myself off the floor and repeat my mantra: “There is a market for EVERYTHING”, (including what I do).

Over the last several weeks, various people kept saying to me, “you should see the show at the NYC Museum of Art & Design”. People were really taken with Daniel Brush and his work. When another friend sent me a link to a NY Times article about his show, I read the article and was blown away. His work is both sculptural and jewel-like and is produced solely by himself, a self-taught goldsmith. This guy taught himself to do granulation, for god’s sake. The pictures of him in his studio with ancient, Victorian machinery that he single-handedly restored was awesome. Also, the article stated that he rarely leaves his studio on 23rd St. and doesn’t sell his work through any store, gallery or agent. He just works: Quietly and for many years on a single piece. And did I mention the pieces he creates? Jars of steel with high-karat gold inlay. Granulation. Pave-set 17th century rose-cut diamonds in “drawings” made of steel. Bake-lite whimsical jewelry with beautiful and precious pave elements. Some pieces are not jewelry at all but feature layers of blued steel with high-karat gold and granulated tiny butterflies or bees. These pieces are more like follies because they incorporate tiny magnets for an interactive puzzle of re-arrangement possibilities.

Several days prior to the show’s closing, I found myself in the midst of his massive show at the museum. Each piece was more detailed and beautiful than the next. There was a room full of his sculptural “jewelry”, a room full of shadowbox “sculpture” and a room full of textural line drawings. I have no idea how he made any of it.

Upon turning a corner of the show, I heard and noticed a small cluster of people around a small man who was gesticulating and speaking with a voice like Tom Waits. I listened closely and yes, it was Daniel Brush himself! This was indeed serendipitous and I tried to position myself inconspicuously to hear his golden words of wisdom. He was so approachable that I loomed bravely in his shadow until everyone else had fallen away. How did he work, I asked him? He is a late riser. Eats the same thing every day: Cheerios for breakfast and pea soup for lunch. Sweeps the studio floor for two hours. Works from 2pm to 5 in the morning. Talks to no one. Doesn’t make work to sell, but makes work to challenge and interest himself. If a piece takes three years to make, how does he price it and whom does he sell it to? He wouldn’t answer my pricing question but seemed more intent on WHO bought the piece, that it would go to a good home, that they would love and care for it because it was so hard for him to let go of his work. He prefers to sell on a handshake.

It was also interesting to note that his wife was there. She was a smallish woman with long blond hair and very sad eyes. I noticed that she he had her left wrist in a cast when she slipped quietly away from the crowd. I wondered what her experience was like, living with a partner who worked incessantly and apparently took himself incredibly seriously and had enormous pride that one could interpret as monumental ego.

My experience speaking with Daniel Brush was that of a true admirer. I was impressed with his IQ and tenacity. I was inspired by the manifestation of work so beautiful that it belonged (and is) in the Smithsonian. He mentioned that he has about 10 collectors who purchase his work and this is what has kept him afloat for these past 30 years.

I could not help but question the inherent rights of the male sex, however. The love of a good woman, keeping him afloat in lean times and mostly running a home while the genius creates. The unnecessary “burden of proof” that accompanies the god-given trust-worthy and capable male species. Talent is not random, it is perfected. But luck and support CAN be quite random.

Oh well, back to the studio and the drawing board. I need to create my own little masterpieces of genius. I just wish I had three years to work uninterruptedly on a single piece and not worry about when I last ate, or how to pay the mortgage. Time to sweep the floor, or get up off of it.