Door 11: JB Blunk

©JB Blunk Collection

It seems that often artists that walk the line between art and craft take longer to be appreciated. Maybe it is the fact that either side does not take the person seriously or also the public does not know what to do with it. A prime example therefore is the American artist JB Blunk, whose work features sculpture, ceramics, furniture and installations.

James Blain Blunk was born in 1926 in Ottawa, Kansas. He studied originally physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, but then changed his major to ceramics. After serving in the Korean War, he went to Japan to see the famous ceramist Shōji Hamada. Not meeting him, he instead was an apprentice to Japanese master ceramicists and potters Kitaoji Rosanjin and Toyo Kaneshige for four years.

#2 Arch, 1976, Redwood. ©JB Blunk Collection

During his time there he met the famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi by chance, who later described him the following: “I like to think that the courage and independence J.B. has shown is typically California, or at least Western, with a continent between to be free from categories that are called art. Here the links seem to me more to the open sky and spaces, and the far reaches of time from where come the burled stumps of those great trees.

After finally returning to the United States in 1958 he and his then wife Nancy Waite Harlow built a house in Inverness, California on a lot given by the befriended artist Gordon Onslow Ford. This house, as it was located in the middle of the woods, served as the backdrop for JB Blunk's work and led to the fact that wood became his primary material. Inspired by the Japanese principle of directness and nature itself, he is known for using chainsaws and hand tools directly and without sketches on massive, single blocks of wood.

The Planet, 1969, redwood, commissioned by the Oakland Museum, California.

The organic nature of his body of work is reminiscent of the one's of Constantin Brâncuși and his friend Isamu Noguchi. As mentioned in the introduction Blunk's work, as it is not so easy to pin down, it was not accepted right away, but enjoyed increasing interest over the recent years and is now featured in museums like Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M+ Museum, Hong Kong, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, and the Oakland Museum of California.