In a corner of northwest Montana, deep in the woods, Stephen Braun is making powerful, challenging ceramic sculptures. “I love the planet and all of its beauty. But all I see is loss. I see the scars we leave to support our consumptive nature. We leave a landscape of heartache…it breaks my heart to see how ubiquitous we’ve been in radically changing our environment.
Self-deprecating and evasive, Braun would rather focus on his artwork than himself as an artist, or his history of activism. He says, “I have tried for many years to create change through environmental activism, legal challenges, and legislation. My art is just another form of activism.”
For this exhibit, he’s been making his trademark environmentally, and socially- and politically-themed sculptures using what he calls a "bastardized American raku technique" that was pioneered by Paul Soldner in the 1960s. The exhibit will include large, narrative wall-based and free-standing sculptures, some of which encourage audience interaction, including pieces that spin and works intended to be walked directly upon, around, or through.
Braun comes from a long history of radical artists. As an anthropology student at the University of Montana, he was introduced to ceramics and studied with ceramics pioneer Rudy Autio, conceptual artist Dennis Voss, and sculptor Ken Little. As a student, he lived up Grant Creek in a tipi for 4½ years, despite recorded temperatures as low as -50°F, biking 13 miles to his site, and scavenging food out of dumpsters. “I tried to figure out the minimal level of consumption I needed in order to live and after doing this I determined everything else I consume is in excess”.
This commitment impacts his studio practice, in particular. Braun explains, “Art materials are linked to extractive industries and filled with heavy chemicals. I’m judicious in what I make. It’s a moral and ethical question…a conundrum. Hopefully the content, the impact, of my work will supersede the resources that go into making it.”
Spanning over 30 years, Braun’s career comprises solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally, as well as broad representation in public and private collections. This exhibition will be accompanied by a new illustrated catalog with essays of Braun’s work by artist and writer Peter Koch, critic Lucy Lippard, and MAM Senior Curator Brandon Reintjes.