Artist Studio | Joe Brubaker

Joe BrukakerBy Wolf Schneider

You were born in Missouri, studied art at Long Beach State and Sacramento State universities, earned a master’s in fine art at UCLA, and have been in Marin County for how long?

About 20 years.

Since you used to teach creative thinking at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, what revelations can you share on the subject?

In general, creative people are driven by a dialogue with a larger universe.

Your wooden carved sculptures take inspiration from Spanish Colonial santos, Egyptian tomb figures, and Buddhist stone carvings?

Yes, those are probably the most powerful influences.

The others being American folk art, African carvings, and Egyptian funeral effigy figures?

You already know everything about me! [Laughs]

We’re just getting started! You also use found objects?

Yes, like old tractor seat metal, old signs, old painted plywood.

What kind of wood do you sculpt with?

Alaskan cedar, reclaimed wood from old bridges, old pine, a lot of old cedar.

Your work’s figurative, but what style do you consider it?

I sway between naturalistic and primitive.

You’re based in gorgeous San Rafael, with wooded greenery right outside your studio window.

Yes, we’re on a hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

Wow. So what’s the most gorgeous town in Marin County—San Anselmo?

Yeah, I think San Anselmo’s awfully beautiful, but I love West Marin out to Point Reyes Station.

Marin is renowned for its natural beauty, liberal politics, and extreme affluence—what exactly made you move there?

Yeah, all of it! And we wanted to get out of L.A.

Is the studio part of your house?

It’s connected by a little walkway bridge over a steep hillside. It was a garage and carport, and I’ve taken over.

What’s the architectural style of the house and studio?

Contemporary craftsman.

How big is the studio?

Oh, 1,000 square feet.

What kind of flooring?

Concrete floor. Drywall walls. White.

How about the light?

I have huge, roll-up doors that provide light from the southwest. No skylights. I have special fluorescent lights called sunshine lights.

So, are you a whirling dervish type when you work or are you slow and steady?

I tend to be energetic, kind of slash and burn, y’know. [Laughs]

Are you a neatnik or a slob?

Oh, I’m a slob. Just ask my wife.

What do you consider your forte when it comes to sculpting?

Well, when I hit it right, I produce pieces that have a real presence.

I hear you’re an avid mountain biker—so is Lance Armstrong the man as far as you’re concerned?

Lance is every cyclist’s hero, but my local hero is my buddy Scott Hunter, a 60-year-old who regularly beats me up the hills.

Good for him! So, at 57, what quality have you decided an artist must have, and what quality will only do an artist in?

An artist must have an openness to change. What will do them in is not finding their own voice.

What’s your mantra?

“I can fix this.”

What’s your sign, and how much do you relate to it?

Libra—I have to have harmony in my personal environment.

What’s the trait that’s served you best in your career, and what’s the trait you deplore in yourself?

Best is my work ethic. Worst is procrastinating.

On what occasion do you fudge the truth?

When I look in the mirror! [Laughs] Especially with my shirt off.

Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with?

Oh, I’d like to trade for an Egyptian pyramid complete with all the carved wooden figures inside.

What’s the range that your work sells for?

From $1,200 up to $15,000.

When you reach the end of this incarnation, what sentence would probably sum it up for you?

“He loved and was loved.”

Brubaker is represented by Grover Thurston Gallery, Seattle, WA; Beth Urdang Gallery, Boston, MA; Sue Greenwood Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA; and Donna Seager Gallery, San Rafael, CA.

Featured in “My World” July 2006