Bryan Christiansen remembers killing his first deer. It was in South Dakota, where he grew up, and he was 13 or 14 years old. “It was a traumatic experience,” he says. “Traumatic but triumphant … I don’t hunt anymore. It just doesn’t feel right.”
But hunting has now become part of his art making process. He scours the streets and alleyways of Reno, hunting for discarded furniture—bed frames, couches and easy chairs—and, in a neat inversion of hunting, he takes those dilapidated, unwanted items, breaks them down, and resurrects them as representational artworks—more specifically, as sculptures of deer and other game animals.
Christiansen completed his BFA from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2009, and in 2010, he had a solo exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art, titled Trophy Hunter. Now, through Oct. 8, he’s part of a two-person show at Reno’s Stremmel Gallery. The other artist in the show is John Randall Nelson, a painter and sculptor whose graphic, childlike style is a nice complement to Christiansen’s sculptures. Both artists seem to work from a place of wonder and amazement at the natural world.
Christiansen certainly conveys a sense of wonder both in his art and when he talks about the experiences of discovering some of the found objects he uses in his work. “Kiddo (Space-Bed),” one of the centerpieces of his current exhibition, is a child-sized box-spring mattress reconstituted to resemble an oversized bull skull. The box-spring sheet was adorned with a science fiction space pattern, so spaceships and comets zip all over the skull, and the wood is covered in loose graffiti.
“I found that during a snow storm, in two feet of snow out behind the Savers on Kietzke,” says Christiansen. “It was such an amazing find. And then I opened it up, and I was even more amazed. I don’t know if it was in a boys home or an orphanage or what, but the frame of the bed was just covered in writing. Some of it looked childish, like a younger kid had written it, and some of it looked more stylized, like graffiti. The only word I could really make out on the whole thing was ‘Kiddo,’ so that’s what I decided to title the piece.”
In addition to “Kiddo,” the Stremmel show includes two other oversized wall-mounted skulls, a steer and a deer, both also made from box-spring mattresses. There are a half dozen deer, approximately life-sized, made from love seats and chairs, and other pieces, including a leather pelt on the wall, “Lay-Z-Boy (Green),” the hide, as it were, of a leather chair, mounted on the wall like a strange Rorschach blot. It’s a neat piece, one where the nature of the material, leather, dictated the form of the work.
Christiansen says that all his work is guided by the materials, and that 90 percent of the time he knows what kind of object he wants to make as soon as he finds a piece of furniture. It all comes down to the raw materials. Leather after all is an animal hide, so it makes sense to mount it like one.
“That dictates everything,” he says. “The scale, how it comes together—every piece is unique in the way that it has to go together.”