A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Karat and stick: The double edged career of John Bucklin

“Beer Sluice #2″ (2008) Beer cans, rivets, rope. 4″x20″x12″ with a penny and a penny weight in gold.

John Bucklin was born in 1979 in San Francisco, California, and graduated from the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 2003. He now lives and works in San Francisco where he innately marries the juxtaposition of being both artist and gold prospector.

Often a pointed response to what he sees as the pointlessness of contemporary art, Bucklin’s work serves both a practical and aesthetic function. The artist elopes from society at regular intervals for weeks on end; disappearing into the Californian wilderness with nothing but a knife, a flint, some homemade wrought iron mining tools, and various light-weight contraptions that he builds out of recycled materials such as beer and soda cans, old bits of piping, and marine carpet. His goal, to use these low tech articles to extract gold from the rivers and rocks of his chosen territory. Like many gold prospectors past and present, Bucklin succeeds and although the bounty of such forays is progressively diminutive he is able, by virtue of the art market, to increase the gold’s value by incorporating it into his work, which is often exhibited along side the very mechanisms that were used to dredge it from the earth.

“GOLDBANKER” (2008) Steel, pvc, marine carpet, funnel, carpet, 12v battery and water pump, 40″x60″x20″ and

“Sluicing in the Cascades” (2008) Digital image.

I first met John Bucklin when he participated along with FriendsWithYou, Kenneth Andrew Mroczek, Dennis Palazzolo and Daniel Arsham in an exhibition entitled ‘Guild’ at Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami. The exhibition, organized by Daniel Arsham, was designed to engage a group of artists interested in the intersection of craft and art and to populate the show with works whose function fell somewhere between something which had a practical application such as a chair or a spoon and something which could be said to have an ambiguous function like a talisman or a balloon. The exhibition’s crux was misrecognition and relied heavily on the ability of the artists involved to surprise viewers by utilizing familiar forms in new and intriguing ways.

“Piece of Gold” (2008) Gold, vial w/ water, wood, plaster, ink, 3″x4″x8″ and “Pumpmaster Gold Machine” (2008) Bilge pump, marine carpet, steel, wood, 10″x 30″x15″.

Bucklin’s work immediately struck me as being different from anything in the show and ultimately anything that I had previously encountered. Upon our meeting I was not surprised to find a human being with an equally foreign air about him and while his work was visually just as spectacular or unspectacular as anything else on view, a certain power brewed beneath its surface that was not shared commonly among the other objects. True to say that there were many mythologies and ideas that fortified the numerous sculptures and articles in the exhibition, but Bucklin’s work stood out for me among the rest as being unique in its authenticity – it did not merely represent ideas, but rather real activities and real time in a profound and biographical manner.

The works on view then were machines, drawings or designs of machines, gold paint splattered canvases pitted with lead shot, a rudimentary ceramic gold pan, various gold pieces in various ramshackle frames, and a collection of sluice boxes – small to man size troughs built of found materials. Designed to be placed in rivers where water and sediment flows over and through them, they catch gold much in the same way as a gold pan – by virtue of the gold’s weight – but unlike a gold pan allow for a larger amount of material to be processed. These articles above his other not-less-fascinating creations spoke of his wild and pioneering spirit; designed as they were to be light weight which, as he explained to me, allowed him to traverse large ranges of country and source gold in areas that are otherwise inaccessible to other prospectors. The image of a tattered yet unrelenting personage romping through the boondocks on some mad quest for riches or pure escapism made a lasting impression on me, a feeling that has lost little potency a year on.

“Gold Nugget ” (2008) Gold, redwood, plaster, acrylic, steel, glass vial w/ water, 4″x12″x15″ and “Gold Machines” (2006) ink on paper, 12″ x 12″.

Procurement, solitude and resourcefulness define Bucklin’s practice. He is easily one of the most interesting artists I have yet encountered; not simply by virtue of his unconventional materials or life but because it is amazing to me that one so clearly disassociated with human kind can so elegantly and seemingly effortlessly bend society to his advantage and blend with grace into a milieu populated by piers who he would probably eat without a seconds thought if the going got tough.

However, Bucklin’s career is by no means an easy path to tread, for although he embarks on his treasure hunting expeditions with the same gleam in his eye as the rush prospectors before him, he knows that in today’s world it takes more than a jealously guarded purse of nuggets to make a name for yourself. Torn between his natural inclination to elope and the realities of capitalist dogma he is forced to strike a balance between work and play. Much like others who live their art, Bucklin is thankful for the means the art market provides, yet in the same breath of thought, resentful of the fact that creative’s are so often obliged to forge careers out of things that just come naturally to them. As such, this enigmatic recluse armed with fortitude and a sluice is a poignant symbol of liberty in an otherwise dreary and shackled world[.]

–Thomas Hollingworth

For more information about this artist please visit:


  • Emma Gray

    Spot on! A thoughtful piece about a really great up and coming artist. The galleries will be lining up…

  • david Rohn

    I really like the way this work has a defined point of departure and takes a historical reference point from it s place of origin and applies it to now.
    And I think it helps that the choice is loaded for present circumstances:finding gold in them thar hills.
    I ve sometimes thought of art making as being comparable to the alchemists who sought to make gold out of other things that had no value-and with contemporary art os related to monetary value now it all seems to tie in together -it s nice thoughtful work.

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Karat and stick: The double edged career of John Bucklin