A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Summer Reruns: 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.

We 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″.

Upon our meeting it was not surprising to find a human being with 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 apart 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, 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 that lost little potency with passing time.

“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. In addition to his unconventional materials and life he is easily one of the most interesting artists we have featured, not least because one so clearly disassociated with human kind can so elegantly blend into a milieu populated by piers that he would probably eat without a seconds thought if the going got tough.

Nevertheless, Bucklin’s path is not an easy one to tread. 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 increasingly dreary and shackled world[.]


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Summer Reruns: Karat and stick: The double edged career of John Bucklin