I am a big fan of American Studio furniture, particularly the work at the expressive end of the spectrum where artists such as Judy Kensley Mckie and the late great Wendell Castle dwell. Over the years, I have combed through the websites of some of the top US galleries representing studio furniture, such as the former Pritam & Eames, Wexler Gallery, Gallery NAGA and others, checking out what these American masters are up to and how they are working to reinvent the craft. It was during one of these searches I came across the work of Andy Buck.
“It’s as if Andy has missed the last 1000 years of conventional furniture design, jumping head on into a new wave of modern tribalism”
Andy’s work took me straight away—whimsical, colourful, playful and original. There is something primitive about his work with its fluid shapes, textured surfaces and coloured patterns. It’s as if Andy has missed the last 1000 years of conventional furniture design, jumping head on into a new wave of modern tribalism. At the same time, there is something familiar about Andy’s pieces. Yes, they are different and often challenging, but they are also essentially human, filled with contradictions and humour.
Formally trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, Andy has lectured and given workshops throughout the United States. For the last 18 years, he has taught woodworking and furniture design in the School for American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Although well versed in traditional woodworking techniques, Andy approaches his work more as a sculptor, allowing visual references and inspiring forms to lead his explorations of furniture. Utilising traditional methods to complete his joinery, Andy often begins shaping with body grinders fitted with cutting and shaping wheels and refines his work with gouges, rasps, files, and spoke shaves. Known for his use of texture, pattern and paint, he has developed a wide range of finishing techniques that often include the use of milk paint.
Andy often begins his work only with a sketch, hoping to gain insight from the intuitive process of making. He describes his process as “thinking with (his) hands.” He sees himself as a translator and says “My job is to learn and decipher the language of my hand movements, of my pen stroke and of my heart. From inside, I will listen carefully to my drawing as I work, thinking about form, scale, gesture and the visual demeanour of the resulting object.” At times Andy may draw lines with his finger on the dusty floor of the studio, reassuring his interpretation. The results of this compositional style are highly utilitarian pieces that convey a sense of humour and source of reflection.
For me Andy’s work is a refreshing change in direction from the current trends of more perfect than perfect dovetails and instead exploring the boundaries between furniture and sculpture. Andy’s work is free of conformity as he re-defines the parameters of what furniture is and how it can be made. Andy breaks the accepted pathway of furniture design and manufacturing, allowing himself to explore and compose his work throughout the making process.
Andy and Wood Dust
Intrigued by what I had seen online, I eventually plucked up the courage and contacted Andy directly. Initially my intention was to write some articles about his work and introduce him to the Australian woodworking community, however Andy beat me to the chase and found his own way to Australia by taking up a residency teaching role at the ANU furniture school. Late last year he dropped me a line saying he was in Canberra, so we caught up for dinner.
It was like a first date and I was nervous. Predictably in the back of my mind was the normal voice of paranoia telling me to say, “you know I’m not stalking you—I just really dig your work”. You tell me, what do you say if you run into one of your heros without coming across as a fool? We met. I bought him a beer, and we got along fine.
That evening was a perfect opportunity to pitch the idea of Andy attending and teaching a masterclass at the Wood Dust festival that Evan Dunstone and I had started organising a few months earlier. Andy by nature is friendly and accommodating, so he accepted our invitation and will appear as a feature exhibitor at Wood Dust this coming October.
Andy Buck is leading a three-day intensive masterclass that will guide you through the process of developing your own creative voice. Participants will make a stool or small table and focus on learning a number of strategies for shaping, carving and finishing wood using traditional and non-traditional techniques. The work will be completed in a group experience format; this workshop will be part demonstration and part hands on. Tickets to Andy’s masterclass are still available so visit the website and secure your bench space.
Andy will also participate in “A Makers Life” yarn at the Wood Dust Yarns at The Q lecture series on Wednesday evening the 17th of October. Andy is a feature guest alongside master craftsman Michael Fortune and Fine Woodworking Editor and writer Matt Kenney. Secure your seat at this very special evening, tickets now on sale.
You can also meet Andy at the Wood Dust Timber & Tool Marketplace held at the Bungendore Showgrounds on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st of October 2018. Come and chat with him at the “Meet the Makers” pavilion alongside other woodworking identities including Tom Lie Nielsen, Vic Tesolin and Terry Gordon. Tickets to the Timber & Tool Marketplace are available online now.