I sat down recently with Galliano artist Jude Brunet as he worked on his latest project, a set of towering carved California redwood reliefs which are to be installed at the entrance of a house near faraway Cape Town, South Africa.
I was lucky to be there when the artist was ready to lay down the two pieces after they had been standing vertical for several days. Together, eight feet high and seven feet wide, they towered above me, suggesting the massive size of the animals whose faces the artist has sculpted from deep in four-inch thick wood, the subjects of his creation.
The two halves form a depiction of the faces of the “Big Five” of the African continent—elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and water buffalo.
Jude says a local businessman commissioned him to carve the pieces which are scheduled to leave the U.S. next week.
It took two years to get the permits needed to harvest the tree (which had died and fallen naturally) from which the redwood planks were cut, and another four months to get the wood to Galliano where Jude lives and works.
Each half of the piece weighs about two hundred pounds, says the artist.
He has been working on his subject since September 16th of last year, slowly bringing the animals’ faces to life with knife, chisel and hammer.
Jude makes one-handed chisel strokes into the piece as he talks about the wood.
“The number of rings we counted in the wood, we think the tree could have been over 2000 years old,” he says.
Next week Brunet will fly to Germany with the finished pieces, where they will be permanently mounted to two teak doors before making their final trek to Africa.
Although Jude honed his artistic skills by carving duck decoys in his father Tan’s workshop, (and won two Ward Foundation World Championships in the process), and has formal training in commercial art from the Art Institute of Houston, he is very proud of this unlikely project.
“It has been fun. It’s different than a decoy. Decoys have to look soft; this piece has to look leathery and hairy, like the animals are in real life,” he says.
I asked him if over the last seven months he ever got tired of working on his subject.
“No. I could work on this piece for six more months if I wanted to,” he replied.
He also said that one of the reasons it has been interesting to do this carving is that while some artwork is commissioned with specific instructions on how the piece should look, he was given “artistic license”.
“They gave me a general guideline and let me do what I want. You have more passion for it when it’s your idea,” he said.
The elephant forms the middle of the relief, with its giant trunk and tusks seeming to rush out at you from the wood.
The leopard and buffalo are below left, and the lion and rhino to the right.
He said what he likes most about the piece is that while he struggled to do less detail, to make the piece rough, it didn’t work out that way.
“And I like the contrast of smooth areas and rough edges around the piece,” he says.
What did he use for models for the work?
Jude says he did not look at real animals but used many photos of the faces of the five predators, and sought the most intense looks he could find. Hundreds of photographs and boards with multiple animal pictures have surrounded him in his workshop for the last seven months.
What’s next on his artistic schedule? He’s hoping the door pieces will garner more business for him.
“In the meantime, I have a whistling swan that I started about six years ago. Maybe I can finish that now.”
It’s been said since time immemorial--you can’t rush art!
Posted on Tue, April 19, 2016
by Buster Avera, Contributing Writer