Steve Brudniak is an American artist known for highly crafted and unusual assemblage sculpture. His art incorporates, often pioneering, unconventional media and scientific elements such as high voltage electricity, Tesla coil technology, magnetic Ferro fluid, gyro mechanics, biological preservations, fiber optics, and lasers. Brudniak incorporates disparate found objects in the construction of his art, however the finished pieces do not resemble collage. His assemblages generally give the appearance of being functional machines or ritualistic objects that are indivisibly “of a piece,” albeit of indiscernible origin and purpose. Spirituality, psychology, and biology are common themes in his work. In 2008 his Astrogeneris Mementos became the first assemblage sculptures in outer space, taken aboard the International Space Station by entrepreneur and astronaut Richard Garriott. … During the 1980s Brudniak was an active member of the Houston Alternative Art scene. … [His] art has been exhibited in over 100 gallery and museum exhibitions. Brudniak’s work is included in the collections of the San Antonio Museum of Art, the El Paso Museum of Art, The Art Museum of South Texas at Corpus Christi, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The monograph, The Science of Surrealism – Assemblage Sculpture of Steve Brudniak, was published in 2013 documenting thirty years of the artists career in photos, essays and commentary, edited by Anjali Gupta with a foreword by Guillermo Del Toro.. … Brudniak remains active in a variety of art mediums including performance, music, [acting] and filmmaking.
The works here are composed of substantial, heavily manipulated materials and unusual found objects. They take months, even years to complete. They are permanent like the modern artworks preceding them; experimental and conceptual like the postmodern age they inhabit. As visual objects they work from the eye inward: It first become apparent to me after having some in depth experience with psychedelics and meditation, that understanding the world could not be accomplished using the intellect. Words and science might chronicle various aspects but understanding is not description. It merely is. Fine art cannot be fenced in by the boundaries of concept, words and science. These are judgments of what is. Any description must come after. (This is partially why I align my work with the surrealists.) Beauty is what brings us into the moment, where extraneous thought is silent because we are listening, raptured. The descriptions and concepts elaborated along side the work are a second form of art and ancillary to what these pieces offer initially.
Each of Steve Brudniak’s artifacts is a relic from a time that never was, and each of them holds a secret. Through superb craftsmanship and a keen eye for design, Brudniak integrates science and technology into his sculptures: Tesla coils, Ferro fluid magnetics, electrically-induced mental imagery and other groundbreaking uses of retro tech shock, produce lightning, induce hypnosis, reflect impossible images and light and produce sound through interaction. Liquids miraculously come alive. Other works amaze merely with their unprecedented content and exquisite form. Brudniak fabricates, manipulates or re-shapes found materials into absolutely coherent, powerful works of art. He can cannibalize a junkyard, a discarded science lab or even his own bodily fluids in order to find the perfect balance between drama and aesthetics. Ask him to tell you the stories behind each piece and he will regale you with tales that involve illegal medical experiments, miracle cures through art and paranormal experiences. But, above all, the pieces themselves are the story. Like museum artifacts, they speak of a future/past that is half Orwellian nightmare, half Steampunk adventure. They tell long lost tales of expeditions, factories or mad scientist labs in lands out of reach, out of time. They stand proud and silent, awaiting your enquiring gaze, your thirst for adventure, your inquisitive touch. They never disappoint and always intrigue. That, I would venture, is the Brudniak touch.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO – Film Director, Producer and Writer, Surrealist
Made from both found and fabricated objects, Steve Brudniak’s sculptures are a hybrid mode of expression, an art of in-betweens that refuses to adhere to any one medium. While such objects might affront an essentialist view of modernist theory, the undeniable primacy of objects also puts Brudniak’s work at odds with postmodernism and its concept and image-driven antecedents. Approaching his work critically is thus difficult since one must shed the frameworks of conventional intellectual thought yet hold to their rigor. This is not a process of unlearning or deskilling. To be informed by encounters with art objects that do not fall in step with your own predilections, rhetoric and aphoristic tendencies is an ability worth honing… His explorations of the self and the subconscious become deliberately and elaborately inscrutable vaults for the unknowable. He invalidates the deductive reasoning associated with scientific hypotheses in his conceptual approach but mollifies it in the aesthetic outcome. Brudniak tilts referentiality without nullifying it; rather, he encrypts it.
ANJALI GUPTA – Arts Editor, Critic and Curator
Steve Brudniak’s sculptures are the sort that, when subjected to description, evoke more words than necessity or accuracy require. Even summing up the dualities is something of a chore: There is the use of laborious craftsmanship on discarded or found objects, the anachronous feeling of antique design fitted with contemporary electro mechanics, the exploration of spiritual and metaphysical concerns via machine. Yet to say, “Oh, it works on many levels” is an obvious cop-out. Perhaps the closest explanation is to acknowledge each piece as its own little world in which taking a look is not nearly enough.
KEN HUNT – Critic
Steve Brudniak navigates the coalescence of art and science in his assemblages. Although the image of the mad scientist is often invoked when discussing his work, Brudniak’s process and concerns are more closely attuned to the magic of alchemy. Culled from defunct machinery, ephemera, human blood, and animal remains, his sculptures function as mystical fetishes invested with spiritual power over collective fears and neuroses.
BECKY REESE – Art Critic and Curator
Every piece, as it moves toward completion, is imbued with the totality of the artist’s intent fused to the imprint of the object’s previous use—or so it seems. Evidence of a presence (or the facsimile thereof) seems to be organic, once alive (or, for the moment, acts alive), fueled by the intensity of experience: having been to outer space and back, activated by the sparks of electrical energy or a once-living form compressed in a metal mold that beckons the viewer to be present for the awesome inscrutabilities of an ephemeral moment. Because Brudniak merges so many hints of the histories imbedded in his reclaimed materials, the objects are charged with the promise of symbolic meaning. In spite of this, they remain hermetic. That is, we may ponder them and wonder about their past and their meaning, but Brudniak has fused them together in ways that obscure their manufacture. They seem to have been birthed whole. In short, one may know about them as they are, and yet, they are unknowable. As such, we receive the invitation to exist for a few moments in what Alan Watts called “the double-bind”: we cannot rationally understand and deconstruct the meaning of what is before us, and the more we try to probe, the less we will be able to discern. However, if we—the perceivers— bypass the ego’s filters and grasp the moment the artist offers to us, we may bathe in his illusions, in each object’s hermeticism and experience, without the need to know or unravel their furtive meaning… Once subjected to words, however, the process of transformation infused in the work is captured and distorted: words are symbols for an experience, not the experience itself. Words, though, are not the only means by which we experience supreme awareness, enlightenment and actualization. Other senses have the potential to bypass filters of verbal “sense-making.” If we suspend, for just a moment, our inherent compulsion to understand by attaching labels, we may get a glimpse of what pure being can achieve: by embracing an illusion for what it is, we may in fact know it without speaking its name.
RICHARD CUTLER PHD – Philosopher
To some audiences, Steve’s artwork is best made accessible by placing it in a sort of science fiction framework—a crude proxy for actual understanding, but one that does allow the public to enjoy the work somewhat fearlessly. “He uses electricity!” should sound as blank as “He uses paint!” but sadly, that is as far as most bother to venture. “He’s like a mad scientist!” continues that gee-shucks underassessment. If there are elements of the theatrical in Brudniak’s work, it is only because each piece is venerated by the imagining of a million hands passing over it, over the course of a thousand years. “There’s this feeling that metal takes on,” I’ve heard Steve say, almost fetishistically, “like an old playground swing set—it’s somehow both rusty and polished at the same time.” A Brudniak piece isn’t aged superficially the way a piece of set dressing in a movie is distressed to populate an imaginary place. It is aged out of respect for the thing that it enshrines. If electricity courses through it, it is not because Steve is throwing in with DIY electronics hobbyists, it is because an object must have power to serve its secret purpose. And while “sacred” is a word that sounds awkward when I write it, it comes very naturally and unpretentiously to the artist. Steve is giving us access to approximations of the sacred things that he has dreamed of.
WILEY WIGGINS – Actor, Multimedia Artist
Locked boxes with thick blurry windows. Sunken screws. Beveled boundaries. Idolized sanctums. Tiny treats. Outer space. Blood reliquaries. Secret clubs. Steve Brudniak’s work is generated out of internal point of reference. Like a tree house with a password, when I enter the world of Brudniak’s art I feel transported, shown a door to a new place. It’s a mood changer. It’s distinctive and lives on powerfully. A darkened Zeitgeist is created, yet it also feels like being welcomed into his lair. Come inside see the freak show. View the hidden room. Secrets are safe here; forgotten knowledge is remembered and preserved… Great art conveys its maker’s natural enthusiasms, oozing layers of meaning and personality. Brudniak loves the idols of lost secrets… I think successful art is committed to memory and therefore lives on, beyond the material of the work. Brudniak’s art lingers. His work has certainly given me weird dreams, and that means he’s in my head. He promotes mystery, suspense and reverence. Antonio Geusa’s writing on how powerfully Bill Viola’s artwork resonates in the memories of viewers is relevant here. Brudniak’s medium is not video, but it does share a certain ability to transform motifs and thoughts. The power to affect memory is essential. This is the take away and the return: these works have an unpredictable after life.
RACHEL KOPER – Art Critic and Curator
Brudniak’s world, habitually full of power, seems now full of Powers. His machines have become monuments, that in their presence invoke and evoke things, even (as H. P. Lovecraft put it) the “Thing In The Cellar,” something archetypal and probably squalid, of a piece with black oil, rusty hinges, cement peeked from lost aggregate. It’s a Raiders of the Lost Ark kind of world. I’m forced back to my first image, of an object so still in its own meaning that its essence is not its effect, but its effect’s effect, the object surrounded with a halo of itself. The effect of that is like consciousness, by analogy only, as something added, perhaps conscious the way a toad in my garden is perceived by me (perceived, not imagined) as conscious. If there were a word somewhere between beholden and beholding (a kind of owing-forth), that meaning would be like what I want to be saying, as a rendering of what these pieces seem to me to say… Painters used to talk of a “speaking likeness” as what a successful portrait should be or do. It may be that Brudniak’s melancholy stone and metal embodies a kind of implicit speech, like what’s heard in de Chirico’s sewn-together dummies, distanced from us because rendered again in paint, but standing on a perspectival grid which measures, to our eye, how far from us they are. The measurement, implicit in the latitude and longitude of his squares of cement or whatever they are, hints at possible communion. As the old magicians used to say, the way up is the way down.
GERALD BURNS – Critic and Poet
We can know the work of Steve Brudniak up close and personal, in our waking hours, where the divine technological weirdness his sculptures embody will only seem like strange dreams. Where the evocation of a time sustained by effortful craftsmanship and the methodical banishing of ignorance’s shadows is available here…
WAYNE ALAN BRENNER – Writer and Art Critic