The wooden carved figures of Joe Brubaker echo sources of inspiration from Spanish colonial Santos and retablo objects to Egyptian tomb figure and Buddhist stone carvings. In recent works, Brubaker has gone beyond these early influences, crossing cultures on a broader basis. He has included forms reminiscent of ritual costumes and body decorations from indigenous peoples all over the world.
Incorporating scraps of metal and found materials, he has created a cast of characters that are at once strikingly universal and absolutely unique. For Brubaker, there is a moment when the work takes on its own personality. "I almost imagine myself as channeling some soul that's out there and wants to come back", he says. "It's really an eerie moment, a Geppetto moment".
Joe Brubaker carves wood and assembles carefully curated found materials to create characters with stories to tell. His exhibition, The Long Voyage was inspired by the upcoming journey of his son Will and daughter-in-law Claudia who are relocating to Australia in the coming year. The central homage to this upcoming separation is The Boy in the Golden Boat, a young figure seated in a boat, rusted cap on his head. The boat is decorated and gold leafed, a nod to its precious cargo and an arc of metal bends over him, offering fragile protection, a reflection perhaps on how little we can control as our children make their way outside the family home. The themes of safety, danger, struggle and endurance expand themselves in this body of work as Brubaker taps into the collective unconscious, meditating on the perils and joys of each character’s sojourn on the stage.
Since his 1997 exhibition at Susan Cummins’ Mill Valley gallery, Brubaker sculptures have been populating collections from coast to coast and internationally. He has enjoyed an enviable exhibition history and remains ever fascinated with the creative process. As he amasses the weathered wood and rusted remnants of earlier lives, the figures begin to suggest themselves as Brubaker skillfully facilitates their rebirth, borrowing from a host of influences from Spanish Colonial retablos and santos, to African and Balinese sculpture and modern and contemporary artists such as Picasso, Louise Nevelson and Deborah Butterfield.
My sculptures and carvings involve a merging of passion, discipline, and abandonment. I attempt to give myself to the process of the work and follow or pursue it to completion. I'm interested in making work that is meditative, that balances between the associative energy of abstraction, and the narrative power of totem and effigy images. I make carvings that are clothed by the associations the viewer brings to his/her confrontations with the work. I try to keep my "art channel" open…in a sense I live an alternative life in the studio…freer, unguarded, open to the larger, less conscious experience. I sometimes make changes on unfinished pieces based on ephemeral intuitions, or that "first morning look" at a piece. Some of my works are populated by a revolving set of characters, who, as familiar entities to me, allow me to use them as actors on an ongoing basis. In a sense, the works exist in a parallel world to my own, helping me mark my own passage through the years. My stylist models are Southwest Santos carvings, some American folk art and African carving, and Egyptian funeral effigy figures, as well as the sensibility in certain Japanese wood carvings.
I hope to produce work hat interacts responsively with the transcendent issues we confront, such as our ephemeral state of being, issues of decay and transformation…and of beauty. I am particularly interested in the paradox of spirit being contained within the fragile vessel of the physical body.