Daniel Brush Creates Dazzling Pieces of Wearable Art
Often the line between jewelry and art gets blurred, but with Daniel Brush the line is absolutely clear. The highly collectible, immensely covetable pieces he creates reside solely in the realm of art as his new monograph, Daniel Brush: Jewels Sculpture (Rizzoli Electa), clearly illustrates.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art certainly considers him an artist, including his Torque necklace, made of aluminum and diamonds, not only in its permanent collection but also in last year’s exhibition “Jewelry: The Body Transformed.” In the accompanying book, curator Beth Carter Webb writes, “Consider the American artist Daniel Brush, whose painstaking, formidable artistry is steeped in extensive study of metallurgy and materiality.” She continues, “[His work] is at once rooted in tradition and utterly without precedent—redefining resplendence today.”
Van Cleef & Arpels agrees, mounting a solo exhibition of the artist as part of its school for connoisseurs that educates on the craft of high jewelry, L’École, in New York and Paris, with plans for Hong Kong in 2020. The show featured two series entitled “Necks” and “Cuffs,” including aluminum pieces that take more than 1,000 hours to sculpt by hand. Each is meant to be viewed as a whole body of work, not as individual pieces for sale. “He has a very specific personal contemporary vision,” says Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels. “It’s not work you can see very easily, and we feel it is very fascinating in terms of style and technique.”
The new monograph, which debuts in October, gives readers a rare look at Brush’s creations and inside his world with remarkably personal text by Vivienne Becker and intimate photos by Takaaki Matsumoto, who often shot pieces alongside the designer’s collection of rare books. “Takaaki said the whole idea is letting readers crawl into your cave and experience your work,” says Brush, whose New York studio, which he inhabits with his wife, Olivia, is certainly worthy of exploration.
A collection of over 1,000 pairs of scissors, soldier’s cutlery sets from the Civil War, and an ornamental turning lathe similar to the one King Louis XVI owned are just a few of the treasures filling the bookcases and tables. But so are the Moghul diamonds, Muzo mine emeralds, and Burma rubies.
Brush’s 50-year career unfolds throughout the chapters. Born in Cleveland, he was a tenured professor at Georgetown but gave it up to move to New York and work as an artist, crafting large canvases and sculptures that just sometimes happen to take the form of jewelry. Since his first masterwork—an engagement ring for his wife—he has poured himself into designing exceptional pieces with no comparison.
In the intervening years, he has cultivated a body of work with themes as varied as talismans, which he reimagines as pendants adorned with rare stones, and a collection of necklaces inspired by the history of the Dragon Lady, Empress Cixi of the Qing dynasty. But despite all the variations in style, the artist’s vision remains clear: “I would rather have the jewel wear the person, instead of the person wear the jewel.”
A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2019 Fall issue under the headline “Brush with Greatness.” Subscribe to the magazine.