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Artist of the Month - December 2002

Bruce Dissel:
The Fine Art of Functional Sculpture

by Sydney Francis

A couple months ago, during the ArtWalk, a local musician and teacher approached me and said, “Sydney, have you seen Bruce Dissel’s ‘running deer’ table? You just have to see it, it is delightful.” Immediately, I hurried over to Dissel’s show at the Moonflower Market looking for the “running deer” table. I had been picturing something literal like a table with four legs in differing positions and a sculpted deer head mounted on the tabletop. I entered Dissel’s exhibit with this picture in my mind, when I happened upon this lovely and delicate asymmetrical table. The legs curved parallel to one another, as they came to these elegant ebony points, suggesting deer hooves. Dissel had not titled the work “running deer”. I do not think he was even trying to portray a running deer, but the name stuck never the less.

Dissel and I had spoken several months earlier about being the featured artist for “Artist of the Month”. I was familiar with his work and should have realized that the picture in my mind was not at all Dissel’s style. Dissel’s work is supple and smooth. He has eliminated gaudy, ornate, and representational forms. He favors contemporary or modern lines and elements that I would describe as Japanese, especially obvious in his array of wooden boxes.

A long-term Moab local, Dissel considers himself a student of the arts, rather than an artist. He is currently pursuing fine woodworking for his own self-satisfaction. He entered the field of woodworking as an antique furniture restorer. But as he has been exposed to a vast array of woodworking over the years, he discovered that he is drawn to a more contemporary, sculptural style like the fine woodwork work of James Krenov and Sam Maloof. Over the last several years, Dissel has been attending intensive woodworking workshops at the well-known Anderson Ranch in Colorado. The rest of his year is spent in his studio, and fighting summer forest fires. Dissel expressed gratitude for the influence the Anderson Ranch instruction has had on his work. Both the instruction and the environment have helped him breakaway from the traditional and explore his own creative vision. Dissel explained that he would like his work to remain functional but include the creative punch of originality.

It is not uncommon, for fine woodworkers to hone their skills by reproducing designs from different historical periods. For example, the “Arts and Crafts Tabourette” in walnut is a design from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century. Notice the gentle inward tilt of the legs as they move toward the floor. The interlocking crosspieces give the piece uncompromising strength. These sturdy, yet elegant, elements are indicative of the Arts and Crafts style of furniture, which forms the historical foundation of woodworking in the 20th Century in the United States.

In stylistic contrast, the “running deer” table, a newer work by Dissel, combines asymmetry with a less heavy look. It may not be obvious from looking at the picture, but the top of the table is placed left of center; the legs which curve parallel to one another, are also asymmetrical elements, as symmetrical legs would curve into or away from one another. The combination of asymmetrical elements is what gives this table an illusory sense of movement. I attempted to capture a picture of this table that combined the deer-like movement of the legs and the placement of the tabletop, but I had a difficult time finding that exact viewpoint. What I discovered, however, was that the “running deer” table requires participant interaction. Like a sculpture, it is begs to be viewed from different angles and appreciated from 360º. From some points of view the visual elements suggest that the deer is standing still, like in the picture, and from other angles the suggestion of movement is apparent. It is completely enchanting.

Dissel has shown his work in a variety of locations around Moab, including Eklecticafé, Moonflower Market, and the Grand County Library. He is also featured in Uniquities in downtown Grand Junction. It is obvious, perhaps to everyone but Dissel himself, that he is an artist, who continues to achieve his goal of marrying art with function (like in the “running deer” table). Because he considers himself an “empty teacup” and is motivated by self-satisfaction, he is at an advantage in any endeavor. Dissel allows himself to expand, explore, and experiment with his own artistic vision. In addition, he takes an innocent and humble approach to art making: he continually allows himself to enjoy the inspiration of learning; and he remains free to delve into the unfettered creative self.

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