Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sculpture Meister Beasley

  Recently a few of us were treated to a wonderful private tour of the studio compound of Bruce Beasley, world-renowned sculptor living and working in Oakland.  Fortuitously, the tour followed a few days after we attended a public talk sponsored by the Palo Alto Public Art Commission, in which Bruce showed slides of the chronology of his work and discussed processes, physical considerations, outcomes, designs, people, places and all the juicy evolutionary bits and pieces that make up being an artist and having a creative life.  

My first experience with really getting into Bruce’s work was writing the Commission’s promo postcard about the talk, requiring that I search online to find out more about him. But what really made me genuinely like him was how he came across during his talk as a warm, intelligent, accessible, and generous person in addition to being a creative and engaging artist who makes fantastic works and pushes it all to the limits and beyond. In a word, it’s very cool stuff and he is a very cool dude in ways that are deeply authentic. As an artist, I resonated with his description of the creative process as being more of an exploration (sorry, Bruce, if I am paraphrasing inaccurately) and his answer to the question of what is the meaning of life, and his recommendation that young artists “forget about art school and just go make art.”  It was all unexpected and satisfying.

His studio compound – yes, probably a city block’s worth of area if you take into account both sides of the street he commands – is a series of buildings each more intriguing than the next, in which he lives and works. We didn’t see the home part, understandably, but Bruce was extremely generous showing and explaining the newer working studio (a cavernous room 

with lots of glass and lots of tools), the old studio (another cavernous room with abandoned tools that harkened to past lives), the verdant gardens (which he planted from scratch) and the outdoor sculpture garden.  The latter was full of intermediate and large sculptures in granite and stainless steel, making me feel like I was wandering around like Alice in a fantastical wonderland. There was even a long reflecting pool flanked by myriad sculptures and a deck with trellis overhead that promised a summer covered with fragrant wisteria. What was not to like.

Aside from the enchanting environment, Bruce’s demonstrations of how he makes the stainless steel sculptures such as his famous “Gathering of The Moons” commissioned by the Chinese Government for the Olympic Park in Beijing, and the challenges and solutions to working with steel fabrications, made the morning memorable. It was intriguing to hear how he works first with designing on computer (CAD work), then creates small prototypes and then extrapolates from there.

Clearly, each sculpture is time-intensive, demanding not just in intensely creative mind, but experience and loads of patience. There is so much more about the process that I couldn’t even begin to fully describe it here—but it makes me feel  like a slacker for devoting just ordinary days to creating an image rather than many months and even years Bruce takes to work out some of his pieces. 

Then, the icing was going across the street to see the inside of the humungous building he scultped as an eventual museum space that included one whole wall three stories high of window, had a neat curved yellow-ballustraded mezzanine inside, and a gorgeously yellow Spacemaster SX 30-ton hoist overhead that was used to move his huge sculptures and place them just so in the room. (He did say in his lecture that one of the things he liked best was seeing his big pieces dangling in the air.) Eventually, he revealed, this building would go to the Oakland Museum. It is definitely worthy.

Artists like Bruce are a local treasure. I hope that you have a chance to see some of his work soon and maybe even talk to him sometime.

Note: For local viewing, Stanford has two Beasley sculptures, one in front of the Cantor Museum and another in front of the Kresgee Auditorium. You can also go to SculptureSiteGallery in San Francisco, or right now learn more about Bruce from his own website.

Photos courtesy of Darrel Rhea.

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