Inspired by the natural world and Native culture, sculptor Rick Brunner creates architectural art.

Migration. Photography: Courtesy RIck Brunner
Migration. Photography: Courtesy Rick Brunner

Wood sculptor and furniture artisan Rick Brunner developed his appreciation for form and nature enjoying rural life, playing in the woods, building clubhouses, and riding horses as a boy growing up on the outskirts of New Orleans. At 18, he moved to Austin, Texas, to attend St. Edward’s University and took his first art class. “Immediately, the world opened up, and art became my focus,” Brunner says.

He got an MFA in sculpture from Notre Dame and moved back to Louisiana, where his studio sits on 140 acres where his family raises quarter horses. “Most of the property remains wooded, and I have the luxury of losing myself for hours in the woods with my sketchbook. It’s my retreat during most of the year when I’m working in the studio.”

C&I talked with Brunner about how the Big Easy countryside and the West inspire this Cajun cowboy’s wood artistry.

Cowboys & Indians: New Orleans and the West seem to inform your art equally. How does place impact your art?
Rick Brunner: I’ve always been drawn to the West. During hot New Orleans summers, I head west for pleasure and inspiration — to experience the diverse cultural influences, the mountains, and cooler temperatures. My work is well-suited for the architecture of the West — perhaps because much of my work has been influenced by its culture and landscape. Intrinsically, wood complements materials such as stucco, stone floors, or a stone fireplace. Colorado and Utah have been among my favorite summer destinations. Every fall, my brother and I spend a couple of weeks in the mountains of New Mexico bowhunting. Last summer, I was able to spend time in the Grand Canyon and casually travel throughout Arizona. When I arrive back in my studio after spending time in the West, my sketchbook is always full of concepts and ideas inspired by the landscape and experiences of my travels. It’s in the studio that I integrate and execute the things that have inspired me about the West into my sculpture.

C&I: What are your influences?
Brunner: While I do draw from the work of other artists and sculptors, I spend most of my time/research in two areas: nature and Native cultures. Nature/trees: The inside of a tree looks nothing like the outside of a tree. In fact, there is a whole universe existing within the bark of a tree trunk, one that tells many stories. I concentrate on movement in the grain and the stories it tells. Also, the shapes of leaves can inspire me. Wildlife: Animals in their natural habitat inspire me. Insects: Some reside within the tree causing spalting to occur, which creates beautiful striations within the grain of the wood. I often refer to the simple form of insects, such as a beetles, butterflies, and moths. Native cultures: Tribal landscape, architecture, weaponry, clothing, jewelry, and ritual intrigue me. My work has been most influenced by the forms, patterns, and textures of Native American, African, and Japanese cultures. My hobby of traditional archery also influences my forms.

C&I: What’s the aim of your art?
Brunner: For me, the process of creating is constant and involuntary. Art (sculpture) is the vehicle through which I navigate life. It’s how I respond to the world, it’s how I express emotion, and it’s how I pray. It’s who I am. It’s often said that my sculpture encourages introspection and has a healing effect. I hope that it evokes an emotional connection within others — one that is as pure and honest as the material and the form of the piece. And one that lasts a lifetime.

Rick Brunner is represented by McLarry Modern Gallery in Santa Fe and The Howell Gallery in Oklahoma City. See his work through October 10 in a solo exhibition at The Gallery at Manship Theatre, Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

From the October 2016 issue.