Daniel Brush was born in 1947 in Cleveland, where his parents had a children’s clothing business. When he was 13, his mother took him on a trip to London, and the family visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was then that he discovered his love of art and convinced his parents to enroll him in art classes.
He met his wife, Olivia after graduating from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, and they have been together ever since. Brush got a job as Art Professor at Georgetown University and began showing his work in museums and galleries around Washington, D.C.
In the 1970s, and at the age of 23, Brush showed promise with a sold out exhibition of his abstract work at The Phillips Collection. He was so shocked by his own success that he bought back all the pieces and destroyed them.
Brush relocated with his wife in New York City in 1978. It is in Manhattan that he feels most comfortable, where he develops his career in a creative environment, despite the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.
His intriguing personality and lifestyle, monk-like and reclusive, living in the epicenter of the world, make him an outsider of the conventional norms that today define “the artist”. Brush maintains direct contact with his buyer, a connection seldom seen in the art world. After more than four decades of making art, he’s never had a dealer or gallery rep, and says he never will. The relationship with the people who buy his work is straightforward and personal. He decides if he wants to sell the work and to whom.
DANIEL BRUSH. Largest Dome, 1996-8. Steel, pure gold.
The idiosyncratic Brush can spend days, moths, even years in contemplation, without leaving his residence in Manhattan’s Flat Iron district, concentrating on his passions: reading books of poetry, philosophy and engineering, writing and of course, making art.
He bought the loft on 24th Street West when he arrived in New York for $25,000. It is filled with the gadgets and paraphernalia needed to carry out his work. For long periods of time his only contacts with the outside world are picking up packages at the door or answering phone calls from clients. To avoid any distractions from his work, he engages in rigorous personal routines: the same Cheerios for breakfast and pea soup at lunch every day.
Brush alone is responsible for purchasing, melting and shaping the gold and other metals used for his artwork. He uses the complex and rudimentary techniques of ancient goldsmiths and has never hired an assistant. The only help and support he receives comes from his wife Olivia and son Silla.
1. Gold Heart, 2003. Steel, pure gold.
2. FEngagement Ring, 2011. Pure aluminum, diamonds Two parts, overall dimensions variable.
His unconventional marketing and sales approach is perhaps the reason why between the years of 1978 to 1996, only about a dozen clients had access to purchase his work. He still refuses to accept the consequences of fame, and during more than a decade he remained completely isolated from the world. He closed his door and denied access to his pieces to those who showed interest in them. He also melted original sculptures and used the metal to build new ones.
In 1998, Abrams published a book dedicated to the artist, and the Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, displayed some of his gold pieces. Once again collectors had access to his art.
Considered by many critics to be one of the best artists currently working with metal, Brush has many admirers who have been collecting his work for years and have gotten to know the artist personally. Lovers of his work include François Curiel, President of Christie´s Asia; neurologist Oliver Sacks; San Francisco collector Marsha Garces Williams, the ex-wife of actor Robin Williams, who owns more than 10 Brush creations, and professor and renowned critic of American Art Donald Kuspit.
DANIEL BRUSH. Bunny Bangle, 1988-1992. Bakelite, pure gold, pink diamonds, rubies.
The reasons why Brush agreed to have his work displayed at the Museum of Art and Design is a mystery to many. The artist has said that an important Museum offered to buy part of his collection, but he had refused the offer. He has absolutely no interest in the commercial importance of his work or the cost of the materials used. He appreciates the materials for their intrinsic value. Gold for him is wonderful at the moment in which it melts, and he finds pink diamonds to have unsurpassed beauty.
This exhibition was born out of the interest showed by Curator David Revere McFadden and Holly Hotchner, Director of the Museum, both admirers of Brush’s work. They have professed a keen appreciation for the way the artist explores materials and takes experimentation and craftsmanship to the limit, handling metals with great ease as if they were paper or wood. The organizers admire the artist as a person and see beyond the monetary value of his pieces.
The exhibit at MAD offers the general public an opportunity to appreciate for the first time Brush’s meticulous art. It is an exceptional selection of his work in its different variants, from drawings and sketches to gold and steel sculptures, to jewelry made from aluminum, plastic or precious stones.
For many, his talent as a jeweler is most appealing. In fact, renowned jewelry houses such as the exclusive Van Cleef & Arpels, Siegelson or Christie’s have partly funded the exhibition, along with support from private collectors who wish to remain anonymous. But to Brush his jewels are a form of expression, he doesn’t create them to be worn.
From all the pieces in the exhibition, the most impressive (a sentimental favorite for Brush) is Loose Threads, created between 2007-2009 with 176 pieces of stainless steel and diamonds. The inspiration came to him from a thread that was attached to Olivia’s jersey due to static electricity. Over the years, he added more diamond strands to the piece until they reached 176.
DANIEL BRUSH. Loose Threads. (Detail), 2007-9. 176 parts, dimensions variable. / Photo: Takaaki Matsumoto.
Brush will continue to be locked inside his loft, working in isolation from everything around him, but thanks to this exhibition, his creative capacity can be deeply appreciated and valued. ■
Largest Dome. Photo: John Bigelow Taylor.
Gold Heart. Photo: Takaaki Matsumoto.
Ring. Photo: Takaaki Matsumoto.
Bunny Bangle. Photo: John Bigelow Taylor.