SchoolArts Magazine

JAN 2019

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G SCHOOLARTSMAGAZINE.COM 21 J O H N B R I C K E L S S T O N E WA R E C L AY A R T I S T L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G Nostalgia and Narrative J ohn Brickels creates highly detailed sculptures of crum- bling industrial buildings, machine parts, vintage cars and tractors, and steampunk robots from stoneware clay. That's right—the metallic surfaces, bricks, and geometric shapes seen in his work are all constructed in clay with hand-building techniques. Through the inven - tive use of clay tools, a clay extruder (think of a heavy-duty cookie press), and his own techniques, Brickels is able to imitate the look of bending wood, rustic brick surfaces, and warped metal. Art historians call this effect trompe l'oeil (fool the eye). He does not glaze his pieces and uses paint minimally for some of his metallic surfaces. Most of his fin - ished pieces retain the color of the original red or gray clay. He uses high-fire stoneware clay that has a hard, sturdy sur - face after firing that can be left outside year-round. Historical Connections Th e majority of Brickels's works are historic in nature. A lifelong interest in unusual architecture led to his early series of historical houses, row houses, and disintegrating factories of the Rust Belt. His interest shifted to old barns after he moved to Vermont. Finding old cars in the barns led to his "rebuilt" vintage pedal cars and pedal tractors. He also began a series of human-sized (or larger) robots inspired by the emerging steampunk movement. About the Artist Bo rn in 1953, Brickels grew up in Akron, Ohio. Enthralled from the age of six with the American car culture, the artist often spent time drawing cars while in school. He also made designs of cars as he imagined them in the future. He received a degree in art education from the University of Akron, where he also discovered his love of ceramics. Brickels soon left teaching to pursue his ceramic art full-time. Ceramic Architecture Ce ramic sculptures of architecture, though rarely as detailed as Brickels's work, have existed since the ancient world. In both ancient Egypt and Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) China, clay models of houses were included in tombs as a way of ensuring that the deceased continued in the afterlife in familiar surroundings. This ritualistic depiction of houses has been brought into the twenty-first century by artist Charles Simonds (b. 1945), who has created a series of ceramic dwellings for an imagined race of "little people." Many of his dwell - ings resemble Anasazi or Pueblo communities of ancient American First Nations. Canadian artist Marilyn Levine (1935–2005), another trompe-l'oeil ceramic sculptor, cre - ated sculptures of coats, shoes, and bags that looked like actual leather. 2-Ton Tractor, 2010. Pedal tractor with added ceramic mechanicals and wheels. Image courtesy of the artist. John Brickels adds finishing touches to Mill Ruin, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.

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