Designer Spotlight

Alchemy x Art: The Work of Daniel Brush

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From bakelite bunnies to esoteric gold and steel objects, the fascinating work of Daniel Brush defies all boundaries of art, sculpture and jewelry. For more than four decades, the intensely reclusive artist has been making art for a small circle of devoted clients, who are also close friends and caretakers of his art. Brush is considered by many as the best-kept secret in the art world and his works can be found in a number of prestigious public, private and Royal collections today.

Gold & Steel Dragon Fly Bowl, Daniel Brush - Christie's

Gold & Steel ‘Dragon Fly’ Bowl, Daniel Brush, 1991-1993 – The exterior designed as sculpted steel swirls, each centering upon a textured gold plaque, the interior decorated with gold mosaic tiles, surmounted by two magnetic dragonflies, each with gold wings, eyes and tentacles, mounted in gold. (Christie’s)

While most young artists would revel in such good fortune, Brush’s early success as a painter in the 1970s riled him so much that he receded to his workshop, where he turned to experimenting with gold for the next forty years. Popularity has never been a welcome matter for Brush, who is so selective of his clients that a personal connection is required before selling his work to a new collector. He is deeply entwined in his craft, as if a part of his soul is imparted into each piece.

Daniel Brush in his studio (Image: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Daniel Brush in his studio (Image: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Inspired by the work of ancient goldsmiths, Brush is best known for his gold masterpieces. Granulation, inlay, and other onerous techniques comprise his unconventional repertoire of incorporating gold with his steel sculptures and objets. Curiously, the technique of granulation first piqued his interest in working with gold. As he told the New York Times in an article from 2012, “When I was 13 years old my mother took me to London and I stood in the jewel vault at the Victoria and Albert Museum,” he said. “I didn’t know what granulation was then, but I saw a gold bowl with a bunch of tiny balls on it. I thought, ‘I have to make something like that in my lifetime.’ ” His extraordinary creations with gold have rendered Brush, who is often described as idiosyncratic and eccentric, into a kind of 21st century alchemist.

A Colored Diamond and Bakelite 'Bunny Bangle', Daniel Brush, 1988-1992 - Of bombé design, centering upon a pavé-set pink diamond rabbit head, enhanced by cabochon ruby eyes, to the pink bakelite tapered bracelet, decorated with carved rabbit and squirrel motifs, mounted in gold (Christie's)

A Colored Diamond and Bakelite ‘Bunny Bangle’, Daniel Brush, 1988-1992 – Of bombé design, centering upon a pavé-set pink diamond rabbit head, enhanced by cabochon ruby eyes, to the pink bakelite tapered bracelet, decorated with carved rabbit and squirrel motifs, mounted in gold (Christie’s)

Jewelry seems a natural fit for Brush, who began experimenting with the medium thirty-five years ago. Though he prefers his jeweled pieces to be called objets de vertu, Brush translates his unbounded creativity into unorthodox jewelry intended more for display than for daily wear. Exploring such diverse materials like bakelite, cold-rolled steel and pure gold has generated equally distinct pieces, each imbued with Brush’s energetic, contemplative, delicate and intense nature. Sparkling gems periodically appear in his work, but not because of their market value or widespread appeal. Rather, Brush appreciates stones for their artistic merit and how they harmonize with a design, arranging the stones like paint brushed on a canvas. What’s more, nothing Brush creates is cast, every piece is forged by his own hand using age-old tools such as an 18th century lathe, blowtorches and milling machines. His scrupulous work ethos means that only a very limited number of pieces are produced each year.

Pure Gold and Steel Contemplative Object 'Orb', Daniel Brush, 1992-1995 - A sculpted steel sphere with asymmetrical indented panels, each panel with pure gold inlaid and open steel borders (Image: Siegelson)

Pure Gold and Steel Contemplative Object ‘Orb’, Daniel Brush, 1992-1995 – A sculpted steel sphere with asymmetrical indented panels, each panel with pure gold inlaid and open steel borders (Image: Siegelson)

Seeing his work leaves viewers both mesmerized and mystified, the exquisite compositions beckon deeper insight and personal reflection. One of his most iconic works, a steel and gold ‘Orb’ – described as a ‘contemplative object’ – captures all at once the raw power, technical virtuosity and beguiling serenity that went into its creation, from concept to construction. As his oeuvre brilliantly reflects, Brush’s unique ideology is a blend of ancient classical history, archaeology, modern aerospace technology, and the spiritual culture of Japan and China. Between his paintings inspired by Japanese Noh theater, the philosophical sculptures and whimsical bakelite jewels, Daniel Brush is a rare artist steeped in solitary thought, emotional sensitivity, and intellectual energy, a man whose body of work embodies to perfection his personal aesthetic.

Carved Bakelite and Diamond 'La Ménagerie Magnétique' Zebra Brooch, Daniel Brush, 2004 (Siegelson)

Carved Bakelite and Diamond ‘La Ménagerie Magnétique’ Zebra Brooch, Daniel Brush, 2004 (Siegelson)

 

Brush and his work have been the subject of two museum exhibitions:

  • Daniel Brush: Gold Without Boundaries, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1998
  • Daniel Brush: Blue Steel Gold Light, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, October 16, 2012-February 24, 2013.

Brush’s work is in the public collections of the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Phillips Collection, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, among others. It has also been acquired for several important private and royal collections, including the Royal family of The Netherlands, the Royal family of Thailand, Sadruddin Aga Khan, Princess Firyal of Jordan, Sheikh Saud Mohammed Al-Thani, Kazumi Arikawa, Agnes Gund, Paula Cussi, and the House of Van Cleef & Arpels and the House of Boucheron. Major publications on Brush’s work include Gold without Boundaries (Harry N. Abrams, 1998), and Thirty Years Work (Steidl, 2007), and Red Breathing: Cantos for the Women Plays (Steidl, 2008).

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1947, Brush received his BFA degree in 1969 from Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, and his MFA degree in 1971 from the University of Southern California, where he was awarded the Charles K. Archer fellowship. He lives and works with his wife in New York City.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Rachael Clark
    February 19, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Great article! I’ve adored Daniel Brush’s work for several years and from the looks of it, his studio is my dream place!

  • Reply
    Erin
    February 19, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Execellent article introducing us such a talent of personality n incredible art work! Thank you!

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