Robert Brady

Internationally renowned sculptor Robert Brady was born in 1946 in Reno, Nevada. An indifferent student in high school in Reno, and needing an easy class to make up credits missed during a lengthy illness, he signed up for art. By the end of his first day he was enthralled with clay. His teacher gave him the courage to leave Reno to study in Oakland at what is today the California College of Art.

Brady pursued his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, Davis, where his mentor was the internationally acclaimed ceramicist Robert Arneson. Brady was also profoundly influenced by the sculptures of Isamu Noguchi and Peter Voulkos. However, he resisted the so-called California Funk style associated with Arneson and others of the Davis art faculty. He also did not initially explore the figure in his work, although figurative work was an equally strong tradition at UC Davis. Instead, Brady explored a wealth of forms and vessels in ceramics, experimenting with different firing and glazing techniques. He has been on the art faculty of California State University in Sacramento since 1975.

Responding in the late 1970s to a series of personal losses (deaths in his family, the end of his first marriage) and to his own recent discovery of Day of the Dead imagery from Mexico, Brady began to explore ideas of death and mortality. Abstract figures emerged in his ceramic work, almost out of his earlier vessel forms. These abstract figures have formed the bases of his exploration of the medium of wood since 1989.

Writers have a hard time characterizing Brady's sculptures, comparing him to a wide range of other artists. His figural abstraction certainly falls within the traditions of artists like Nathan Oliveira and Manuel Neri. At the same time, Brady's objects often seem to work on some fundamental level related to ritual figures and totems of cultures far removed from the Western, Anglo-European-American tradition. Both wood and ceramic figures are highly reductive, as the artist seeks the very essence of form. Brady gives tremendous attention to surface detail on the wood figures, perhaps a legacy of the ceramics where surface finish, achieved either deliberately or through the happenstance of firing, is an important part of the aesthetic.

Brady's work has been regularly exhibited in Nevada (at the University of Nevada, Reno, as well as the Stremmel Gallery and the Nevada Museum of Art) over the past twenty-five years. Regrettably, he is not yet represented in any public collection in the state. Yet, Nevada is at the center of his work. In a conversation with editor and publisher of Works & Conversations magazine Richard Whittaker, Brady expressed his love of Pyramid Lake and Nevada's desert. He said that in the desert, "it seems like the artifice and the frills and the dressing has eroded and cannot exist there. So there is more of the baring of the fundamental, geological soul of this universe there." These are exactly the essential, fundamental qualities Brady has always sought in his art, be it from a vessel or a human figure, which is, in the end, a kind of vessel.

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