The Transformative Art of Stephen Bruce | Arts & Theater


Stephen Bruce and the art he creates are both forces of nature. Revealing the power and beauty of transformation, the Sacramento-born, Richmond-based artist and educator uses acid to etch copper foil into earth-toned abstract ‘paintings’ that evoke the power and serenity of water, earth and sky.

Like any compelling artist, Bruce combines his aesthetic sensibility with the technical prowess practiced to create works that inspire the viewer to rethink and reinvent what might otherwise have gone unnoticed. In this case, he shows how a malleable metal, when exposed to solutions as common as pickle juice or salad dressing, can interact to reveal beautiful and intricate patina patterns.

A perfect circle

Bruce wasn’t always a full-time artist, but at 47 he gave up his daily job and embarked on his creative journey.

“Growing up, I was taught that to be an artist you had to be able to draw a perfect circle,” he said. “But I couldn’t, so I never saw it as a possibility and took a very different path.”

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He took a job at the Lucky Supermarket, quickly rose through the ranks, started a family, and settled into a routine. But the art world and his desire to make art have not ceased to gnaw at him. Such a gnawing could have been left out if it weren’t for an experience he was unable to ignore.

“I was looking for a simple greeting card for a friend who was going to have a baby,” Bruce said. “But all the babies on the cards were white and my friends were black – I finally bought one and colored the faces with a colored pencil.”

From this experience, Bruce launched an effort to connect black artists with resources and networks to help them access new places and clients, thus allowing them greater exposure and better access for those in need. are looking for such works.

Part of his help to artists was showing their work at various art exhibitions in the Bay Area and beyond. His participation in the process was transformative. Not only did the experience energize him, but it also exposed him to a community of creative souls who nurtured his growing awareness that he needed to embrace his own artistic path.

During one of these shows, he met another Californian artist, Karen Hale.

Friends, mentors and community

“His open, kind and friendly nature immediately drew us to him,” Hale said. “He wanted to develop his own art form and had done a lot of research. He was very serious in his desire to develop his new idea of ​​the patina of metal.

Captivated and charmed by Bruce’s “tenacity, enthusiasm and sheer joy of discovery”, Hale encouraged the budding artist to follow his instincts. She had little doubt that Bruce would succeed.

“Throughout my journey, I have been fortunate to meet people who have become both friends and mentors,” said Bruce.

Another such person was Hale’s daughter, Dana Hale-Mounier, director of the Pacific Fine Arts Festivals, who provided space at a festival in 2006 for Bruce to showcase his art.

“By that time, I had been working on my first small collection for a while,” he said. “Things were tough – both financially and technically – so I was really struggling to finish them. I have been repeatedly tempted to quit.

Hale-Mounier made a deal to him. He could have space on the show, only paying for the place if he exceeded a certain sales threshold.

“When he took the plunge by creating his own artwork, we couldn’t have been happier to support him at our events,” she said.

He agreed and finished the pieces just before the opening of the first show. To that one he sold a piece; then in a few broadcasts, it had significantly exceeded the threshold.

“That’s when I was like, ‘Hey, I think I can really make this work,'” he said.

Even now, years later, Bruce continues to show his work at such festivals, including shows in Napa Valley, where he enjoys engaging one-on-one, talking about art, and making new friends. friends.

“Stephen’s spirit of adventure and curiosity is fascinating in his art,” said Hale-Mounier. “Art lovers who just see Stephen’s works will appreciate it. But if they take the time to dig deeper, learn the history of the piece, the secrets of the creation process (including the pickle juice!), As well as the bumps in its journey that inform his hand of artist – these components add to the layers of artwork that makes Stephen’s pieces so interesting.

Secrets of success

“It’s about trusting yourself and listening to that creative spirit within you,” Bruce said. “It’s also a question of experimentation, curiosity and questioning.”

“Stephen wasn’t afraid to experiment, and he wasn’t afraid to ask more experienced artists for honest feedback and mentorship,” she said. “His ego didn’t stop him from hearing what was being shared and as a result, taking what worked for him provided a tense trampoline from which he could jump.”

Today Bruce’s art can be found in many homes, collections and museums around the world. His work has been featured in popular films such as “The Avengers”, “Iron Man 3”, “Horrible Bosses” and “The Social Network” and in television shows such as “House”, “Law and Order”, “Criminal Minds”, “Californication”, “Big Bang Theory” and “The American Housewife”, where his modernist wall hangings help to create a distinct ambience.

“It’s great to see my work on the big screen,” he said, “but having the connection with people is really my greatest pleasure.”

To that end, Bruce created The Skidmore Project, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help schoolchildren learn to notice and recognize their own creative minds. Part of the project’s mission is also to show concretely that science and art can be accessible, useful and not incompatible. Bruce hopes the courses and seminars he presents in schools across the country will have a positive impact on the lives of young people.

“I want children to understand that each of us has our own creative voice,” he said. “I want them to know that exploration and experimentation are lifelong skills that offer possibilities – an avenue to see and even improve our world. Such a state of mind can help solve some of our most difficult problems, while also revealing the unseen beauty that is often just below the surface.

Christopher S. Washington