Choosing Between
a Transmission and a Crucifix
By Joel Haas

Nov 16, 2003

In the early evening, I went out into the studio to make a coat rack and wound up making a magnificent crucifix instead.

Per an ad in “Sculpture” magazine, I had gone to a website of Gil Bruvel, an artist of whom I have never heard. It is important to me that I analyze why I did not like his work. He is technically flawless; he’s personally appealing; he has wonderful marketing/website and he obviously works very hard. He has a $2 million commission to paint the ceiling, walls etc. of zillionaire Paul Frame in Houston, Texas.

On the surface, Bruvel ought to appeal to me as much as Varo, and, he is much more accessible than Dali. That’s it. Bruvel is a surrealist for those who insist on clear and pleasant dreams. Nothing wrong with that. But, there is no there there. It’s all pretty pictures and no edge or bite. Good work does not have to have a negative bite or edge – that’s just what art critics generally notice quicker. No, it’s not that he lacks a negative view
it’s that he lacks a positive, too. It’s all surface with a mystery underneath that is simply not very compelling. He is a sort of Maxfield Parish meets Star Wars designer and they go off to design Cirque du Soleil posters.

Maybe this is the crux. There is no backstage in a Dali (painting
or even one of Albert Handson Thayer’s (1849-1921, American) angels or Heinrich Kley’s pen and inks. (Kley, 1863-1945, German) In Bruvel’s work, though, you never quite shake the sense these are really models or performers staging something for you and that if you went backstage you might catch the actors wiping off make up or having a quick smoke.

Mr. Bruvel is blessed with immense technical facility, good fortune, and, I dare say, a tremendously likable and well balanced personality. He is cursed with no quirks to work off of. There is no genuine grief or belly laugh humor in his work
only a pleasant earnestness about being “serious.” So. He falls back on a mannerist, stilted surrealism a sort of Fragonard meets Dali to do a Cirque poster style.

There is certainly no “sweep of humanity” depth as with Bosch or Brueghel the Elder (Bruvel is trying to do a 7 Deadly Sins series). There are no ugly or real people in his paintings
only beautiful, posturing models of perfection.

He does not even seem to be as self absorbed or self referential as Varo (talk about a woman with some personal quirks!)

Come to think about it, Heinrich Kley is a far, far better artist
same technical skill, same surface surrealism, but Kley demonstrates the full range of human emotion in his drawings
from outrage to puckish humor to belly laughs to gentle sentimentality.

All of this was going through my head while I worked on the coat rack that transmogrified itself into a crucifix. It was as if God were talking to me and saying “You can have all that, too. I can arrange it, no problem. Is that what you want?”

“Well,” I thought, “It would be nice to have a $2 million commission, … but not at the expense of making sterile art.”

I looked at the piece on my workbench. Horizontal, it would be a good coat rack. My wife would be off my back about making it. I could probably even sell it quickly for enough to work on the truck’s transmission. (Then I would have to make another one.) Vertical, it is a powerful Christian symbol and not likely to sell very soon or at all. As a coat rack it is elegant; as a vertical abstract, it has power.

I chose the crucifix.

Joel Haas, Sculptor


The steel crucifix I made

approx 30 inches high.


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2004 The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts