Daniel Brush with his ornamental lathes – Photo Credit Nathan Crooker
: Daniel Brush
Text Cherie Wong
Photos L'École Asia Pacific

Every morning, to Daniel Brush, was a meditative ritual. He would sweep the loft that he and his wife lived in for several hours, contemplating the single line stroke he drew every day that would transform his pulse, breathing and the state of mind. Through daily contemplation, the reclusive artist developed the depth and connotation that his works represent. During some 50 years in seclusion, Brush pushed boundaries and broke barriers that define art and craftsmanship. His discipline-crossing creations are filled with dedication, being experimental and curious on subject matters, from large paintings to small metal made jewellery and objects. 

Daniel Brush in his studio – Photo Credit Nathan Crooker

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1947, Brush was raised in an inspirational family with parents who worked as artists. His mother brought him on a 13-day Europe trip when he was 13 years old, visiting major landmarks and museums. It was then, during his visit to the Victoria & Albert London museum, that he saw an Etruscan gold bowl made of small gold beads in a granulation technique that made him determined to make something as beautiful within his life-time. He continued his study as an art student at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, where he met his lifelong partner and wife, Olivia, in 1967. He later on made the first jewellery piece with an ounce of gold and a torch for Olivia’s wedding ring in a Hercules knot. After the completion of his master’s degree, he was appointed professor of art at Georgetown University. His abstract paintings were very much influenced by Japanese Noh theatre, inspired by a Yamabushi mask from his mother, which also played an important role in his later creations. 

Daniel Brush explaining the Scholar_s Table piece – Photo Credit Nathan Crooker

A perfect diversion from the pressure of his painting creations, Brush developed his passion in studying gold and the roles and rituals of jewels in different cultures and civilizations. He taught himself and mastered the ancient techniques of granulation, a process of forming gold grains and fussing them in forms or shapes. Starting his golden dome series, one of his representational and ambitious works would be the “The Largest Dome” that is made of 78,000 gold grains, each only 0.0008 inches in diameter. Brush took a few months to place them correctly. At the time, he knew he only had one chance to fuss over the grains; if the torch heating time was too short, the grains would fall off, too long the grains would be melted. From start to finish, he sat with the project for two years until one morning, with Olivia’s encouragement after breakfast, he completed the work. 


Continuing to explore the possibilities of different metals, Brush started to ask questions about their intrinsic value of metals and their resulting constructions. Infusing steel in his works, he pursued in-depth studies on grades and composition of the alloy and became an alchemist to create soft ruffles and curves on this modern and industrial material. He also loved to adorn Indian rose-cut diamonds on steel to create an emotional contrast for the discrete glint with the soft hand-carved curves. In his works, “Loose Threads”, the inspiration was from his wife Olivia’s works with textiles, resulting in threads always sticking on clothes. He played with the hand-made diamond-set steel squiggles, mimicking the threads on Olivia’s clothes, much to her delight. 

Infatuated with aluminium, once the most valuable metal in the world, Brush related the metal to his childhood memory of repairing and restoring vintage racing cars and the communion moment of seeing a pair of elaborately engraved aluminium opera glasses. He then embarked on an over 15 year journey, dedicating his energy to this humble metal to bring out the best potential of the material for the sheen of light and embedding stories in the pieces. He hand-made a series of hollow spheres that are almost weightless but strong, strung as beads with gemstones. As Brush once explained: “even with the lowest ambient light, the wearer of one of these aluminium jewels becomes a synergistic partner in this drama of light.”

Daniel Brush dedicated his life to the creation of art and the study of materials, forms and representation. His works are forms of pure expression of himself and his contemplations.  He passed away at the end of 2022, having been greatly involved in the curation of the L’Ecole exhibition which had been postponed for more than 3 years due to the pandemic. The exhibition is Brush’s first solo show in Asia, showcasing part of his representational works at L’Ecole Asia Pacific, K11 Musea until October 2nd 2023.