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When the Circus Comes to Town: The wonderful world of Gil Bruvel 

Multiple, by Gil bruvelGil Bruvel's work is otherworldly. His artwork references a mystical, circus-like environment, full of fantastic jugglers, women balancing on the backs of

click to enlarge Multiple, by Gil bruvel
  • Multiple, by Gil bruvel
Multiple, by Gil bruvelGil Bruvel's work is otherworldly. His artwork references a mystical, circus-like environment, full of fantastic jugglers, women balancing on the backs of majestic horses, masked lovelies lounging while he paints their portraits. His paintings remind me of vignettes from an abstract ballet, with stages set in slightly twisted yet welcoming landscapes.

 His sculptures bring fantasy into the physical realm, as with the life-sized mermaid that will be on display this week at Lahaina Galleries in the Old Mill. His functional sculptures are the furniture of a wine-soaked dream: a bench titled "Found in Oz" implies that the artist doesn't just imagine other worlds ... he goes to them often. How does one artist ask to be invited on a tour to the 'other worlds' of another artist, especially over the phone? It's a touchy subject to ask an artist about his influences, even touchier to assume such influences exist, but Bruvel's paintings are unabashedly surrealist, a modern tradition that has influenced music, literature and film. That was the starting point of our conversation.

 "I, of course, was fascinated with the surrealists: Dali, Max Ernst, Miro-but also Klee and Kandinsky for compositions," Bruvel answers with a French accent that makes the conversation feel quite cosmopolitan.

The artists he mentioned found conflict in the mechanical versus the natural world, and Bruvel continues the exploration of this tension

"I am interested in shapes that come from vegetation, microscopic photography, attaching that through the body," he says.

This tension is manifested in figures whose costumes aren't quite mechanical, but aren't exactly organic either. The shapes then become an endless "metaphor for human emotion." Though the visages on several of his paintings are serene, the push and pull of spiny shapes in many of the masked faces imply there is much more going on beneath the surface.

"Light, patterns in nature, evolution of shapes from cloud formations to coral growth to rock erosion, human features, evolution of thoughts and beliefs, visual and psychological illusions" establish the basis for Bruvel's worlds. Through the conversation, I find similarities in our artistic processes, like chefs gathering the same ingredients while the resulting meals are completely different.

"I am always interested by imagination ... doodling ... then my traditional training gives structure to the work," says Bruvel, whose training is apparent. Even though his subject matter is phantasmagorical, his skills are clearly classically based. Looking at the transition from the painting of the mermaid to the sculpture of the same subject, I am reminded how easily Degas ballerinas transitioned from paint to bronze. Well-schooled in landscape, portrait, and figure painting, Bruvel also tapped into the knowledge of his cabinet-maker father, gaining skills that have informed his three-dimensional pieces.

When I asked Bruvel how he makes the transition from 2-D to 3-D to functional pieces, he described a recently completed piece called "The Alter Ego Chair," which has twenty-something graphite faces burnished in the base. It is a true collaboration of all of his media, along with "a place to sit and rest." His work is precise and complicated; his themed chess set is a stunning example of craftsmanship-meets-fancy.

I ask if he is a good player. "No," he replies unashamed, "but I love it. It is an obsessive game, I think." It makes sense, then, that the chess set was almost compulsively developed. Bruvel tells me the process was quite involved: it took over six months to design the different pieces with the aid of a computer to manipulate the designs. Bruvel and I agree that a piece of art may have a specific meaning to its creator during its genesis, but the real narrative is created by the audience. The variable of each person's interpretation is where the magic happens - if the viewer takes the time to enter a different world.

Kaycee Anseth Townsend is a Bend-based artist and Source contributor whose work is on display at PoetHouse Art. She has also had her artwork featured on the cover of the Source.


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