Back yard man

Robert Brady

Artist Robert Brady, with sculptural friend, at the Stremmel Gallery.

Artist Robert Brady, with sculptural friend, at the Stremmel Gallery.


Stremmel Gallery

1400 S. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89502

(775) 786-0558

The sculptures are luminous, graceful, stately and at times whimsical—tribal, but from what alien tribe? Native Nevadan Robert Brady’s ambitious exhibit A Full Backyard features more than 60 pieces that range from proud, arching angel statues that peer over the viewer, larger than life, to the “Language Series,” a group of glazed marks resembling Chinese characters.

What do the characters mean?

“Abstract things come from truth or a model,” says Brady. “That is, as generally as we can agree upon … reality. And then we back away from that truth in art, and that is abstract. We can look at those symbols and not know what they mean, but they have a gravity to them.”

A Full Backyard provokes more questions than answers and evades classification. Abstract, surreal, Neolithic and postmodern blend seamlessly in each piece in a mixture of wood, ceramic, paint, thread and the part of a spoon that creates the head of one of Brady’s plucky birds.

Brady began his artistic career as a potter and later began to explore other media, such as wood. His discovery of woodcarving was an opportune fluke: His wife asked him to make a medicine chest out of wood. He bought a piece of pine and tackled the job with simple carpentry tools.

“It was more than just a box,” he said of the piece. “It felt like the first pot I made at Wooster High School. It was the second most pivotal thing, maybe 18, 20 years after my initial interest in art.”

Animals, people, buildings and hand-sewn, rice-laden paintings are just some of the beautiful and quirky occupants of Brady’s backyard, which is indeed full, replete with a hair comb over three feet tall, carved from wood and elaborately decorated with gold foil and tiny Kanji inscriptions on rice paper from old ledger books that Brady found at an antique store.

Each piece is different from the next, reflecting both the artist’s sense of humor and sense of universality. His archetypical female figures convey a proud, serene wit. The elegant, scrappy birds seem to squawk amicably among themselves, and the samurai robots, suspended in gentle solemnity, could exist in the remote past or in the distant future of another galaxy. One leaves the exhibit feeling a calm awe of life and creation: These pieces will be here long after we’re gone—and yet somehow they were here before.

This is Brady’s third exhibit at Stremmel Gallery. His work is part of permanent public collections at the De Young Fine Art Museum, San Francisco; the Los Angeles Museum of Art, the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Stedelijik Museum in Amsterdam, Holland. Brady is an art professor at the Sacramento State University and resides in Berkeley, Calif.

So what’s in Brady’s actual backyard?

“Two gas kilns, two motorcycles, a ping pong table and art,” he says.