Daniel Brush is not the first painter, sculptor and metalworker with the enviable knack of excelling in multi disciplines. His seemingly God-given skill for metalwork, however, denotes an artist of lavish talent and skill. Hence, in the past two decades, his fine-art approach has been embraced by the high jewellery universe. The esteemed jewellery historian Vivienne Becker says his talent is ‘sorcery at work’.
Now, for the first time in Europe, a compact exhibition of the New York-based artist’s works are on show at the Van Cleef & Arpels school of jewellery arts in Paris. The show revolves around two installation pieces – ‘Cuffs’ and ‘Necks’.
Image from NECKS, An Artist's poetry book. Photography: Wesley Stringer
The latter comprises a book and a suite of Flavin-like cases containing 117 steel and aluminium colliers de chiens – dog collars – designed for a single ‘unrequited’ neck. Brush has hand-engraved each with his signature abstract patterns and waves, to such an intensely fine degree that steel or aluminium appears to be as fluid as shimmering water. As Becker puts it, ‘Brush softens steel into silk, turning the metal’s indomitable masculine industrial strength into a feminine moiré ribbon.’
The 'Cuffs' piece comprises 72 metal and diamond-set bracelets inspired by the 'sounds and confusions' that have at one time preoccupied Brush while engaged in his early morning studio floor-sweeping ritual. 'Steel, downtown, radical, out there, bondage, New York, Janis Joplin, Glenn Gould, Barnett Newman’ are just a few references that add up to this cacophony of inspiration.
The museum quality of Brush’s craft, its strange otherworldliness, makes it almost impossible to relay his work in words or pictures. There’s an unexpected thrill in its perfection, a sheer visceral effect that derives simply from Brush’s lifetime pursuit of it through thousands of hours of handwork. ‘Necks’, for instance, took four years to complete.
Becker, who is currently working on a new book dedicated to the Cleveland-born artist has pulled the exhibition’s narrative strand together. It is she then, who is best placed to sum up Brush’s art: 'The jewels and objects that are conjured from his febrile imagination, via the awe-inspiring dexterity of his hands, possess a pure and powerful, deeply emotive beauty. For those who know how to see and feel, they are infused with the deep spirituality reminiscent of the earliest role of the jewel.'