Exhibition Essay

Marking the Spot: Squire Broel’s Totemics

Within the broad subset of items that are considered totems, ultimately they are vessels of stories whose provenance speaks of time and place, and of course human experience. They are often created to foment the existence of a people’s legacy through the retelling of fantastic tales of exodus, victory, and wealth. These totems tell stories that are spurred by what the independent scholar, Ernesto Mercer, calls the “moving foot”[i]: a group of people, who for one reason or another, decide to leave one place, travel for months at a time until they get to the new place that will then be the place they inhabit, build community, and make a life.

Broel’s totems are of the earth as much as they are markers placed upon it. Constructed from organic materials found inside the earth – bronze and aluminum – and on top of it – wood and resin – these structures stand as tribute and recognition of human beings’ inextricable reliance on terra mater[ii]. We are capable of creating sustainable structures but also aesthetics pregnant with meaning and possibility.

The Bronze Age throughout the world lasted from approximately 3300-300 BC and it signaled the development of early urban civilization. Bronze featured heavily in trade and have technological advantage to civilizations using it to build structures, as it was significantly more durable than other available metals, thus allowing permanence. Aluminum like Bronze has played a crucial role in urbanization particularly in the postindustrial age. It is crucial to the transportation, building, and aerospace industries, thus facilitating exploration, travel, and the construction of shelter. Wood and resins are among the earliest organic materials discovered and used for a variety of functions: tools, weapons, furniture, and fuel to name just of few. Discussions around deforestation bring to bear the stories of wood, or the absence thereof, and tell the story of human interaction with the natural environment: where there was once plenty, there is now scarcity.

What then are the possible stories residing within Broel’s totems? What realities do they mark for us as we prepare to enter the third decade of the 21st century? Nestled amongst the shadows of breathtaking mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest where Broel lives and works, there is opportunity to pause and consider what that land may have looked like before it was settled. Humans like progress but in the grand scheme of all that was accomplished, we should also consider all that has been lost. As Manifest Destiny moved westward, American settlers plowed their way westward across the Cascades and northward from California. English settlers came southward from what is now British Columbia. Both groups of settlers encountered Coast Salish peoples, took their lands and their resources, and decimated all who dared protest. Native American peoples that escaped death were forced onto reservations and in many cases, into near permanent states of indigence.

If there is any one notion to glean from reflection with Broel’s totems it is reflection. The aforementioned histories happened on the very land Broel calls home, and within the natural environment, that nourishes his practice. It is an abjectly beautiful but also, at times, unforgiving landscape. It is the precise opposite of the larger, louder, and technologically connected Seattle. If in Seattle we inhale and exhale the boons of the tech industry, in Walla Walla, imaginably, one breathes in the blaring stillness and at times, a deafening quiet.

Broel’s work is also a tribute to endurance and resilience. His totems are made to command attention and because they are portable, they offer to every new space they inhabit, fresh considerations for a more intentional way of life – a life closer to the bone.[iii] Broel’s preferred materials allowed countless civilizations to grow and flourish, the remnants of which endure to this day. Broel’s totems stand as clues to the inner and outer workings of humans of the early 21st century: our aesthetic preferences, habits, our adaptability, and our capabilities.

We have built so much for the sake of progress, and Broel’s work provides insights into what we may need going forward for the sake of our own survival. If the previous decades of the 21st century have revealed to us anything about ourselves, it is that progress still does not equate with health, joie de vivre, or rejuvenation. Totems stand heads and tails above all the rest and demand our attention. We attempt to read them as if a book. They demand our time, and spend it generously restoring to us our ability to see with all five senses engaged, and imagining potentialities, for a life closer to the bone.

By Negarra A. Kudumu


[i] Ernesto Mercer, Kongo Never Dies, Vol 1, Part 1, 2016.
[ii] Latin for mother earth.
[iii] Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations, Season 5 episode 4, 2008. Refers to the existence of a lifestyle connected to the land and one’s need to engage with the land.
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Sculpture Exhibition – Washington, D.C.

American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, D.C. to Present Contemporary Sculptures by Squire Broel Art installation offers visual counterpoint to frenetic, fragmented existence.

AU News_2019

WALLA WALLA,WA: A series of contemporary sculptures by Squire Broel will be installed for public viewing in the Sylvia Berlin Katzen Sculpture Garden at the American University Museum, Washington, D.C. from April 6th through August 11th, 2019.

A selection of Broel’s life-sized to monumentally-sized totemic bronze sculptures creates space for reflection and contemplation about what it means to be engaged as an individual within community and interact intentionally with the natural world. In his series of vertically oriented structures, Broel references tangible and intangible notions that resonate universally: botanical and architectural structures, environmental rhythms, physical and emotional solitude.

“The sculptures echo familiar forms found in nature, modernist design, primitive utilitarian objects and art historical traditions. The shapes appear straightforward, yet the surfaces are nuanced and the orientations are subtly articulated – much like each of our individual lives,” noted Squire Broel. Intentional abstraction creates a generous context for engaging with the sculptures. Allusions to historical references create a sense of timelessness and familiarity, yet the pieces exist outside the rapidly shifting visual language of stylized contemporary aesthetics.

This unique sculptural installation exposes viewers to aspects of the American rural West’s untamed spirit, vast rugged landscapes, and traditions of mysticism. “Having experienced the golden wheat fields off set against the Blue Mountains, I can better understand the great conservationist Justice William O. Douglas’ work to preserve the land and Squire Broel’s totems that rise from it,” Jack Rasmussen, Director and Curator American University Museum. Broel’s intentional decision to live and work in a small agrarian community in the Pacific Northwest provides viewers with a raw vision of inward examinations that relate more to the health of the psyche than to the pop-culture echo chamber. The work is a complex fusion of expressions: longing, melancholy, hope and contentment.

In 1999 a traveling exhibition, Outward Bound – American Art at the Brink of the Twenty-First Century, brought Broel’s two-dimensional work to Washington, D.C, where it was included alongside works by Roy Lichtenstein, Christo & Jeanne-Claude, Squeak Carnwath and Sam Gilliam. This is the first exhibition of Squire Broel’s three-dimensional work in the nation’s capital.

Article and additional photographs at Walla Walla Union Bulletin, February 7, 2019

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Thoughts about creativity

30000Feet_Jan_2016Creativity requires commitment. The continual renewing of perspectives and the ability to consider a multitude of possibilities are essential fundamentals for the individual who seeks to express a personal vision that strives to be enduring and vital. Creativity breaks the cycle of the mundane and sets the heart and mind free.

Some artists work in series with repetitive forms and ideas and yet continue to imbue their work with an originality and liveliness similar to the first unfettered pieces they created. Others certainly do not. What is the basis of the difference? How long can an idea can be teased out or replicated and still be considered creative? Can the thing that was once thought to exemplify creativity eventually cease to be creative over time? Does creativity have an expiration date?   Creativity is about the present–the now–rather than the past or future, yet it is constantly evolving.

Artists who are flexible and inquisitive in their thinking and processes will  make works of art that have an electric quality to them.  The work doesn’t necessarily need to be bold, loud or dramatic.  It simply needs to encourage the viewer to feel and think; it will quicken the pulse. Truly creative work is authentic.  Emotion and thought are generated in its presence.

It’s understood that cultivating the capacity to live with ambiguity and unpredictability helps to foster creativity, but the brain often defaults to recognized and comfortable patterns in a desire to maintain the status quo. “When we feel like we don’t have command of our own fate, our brains often invent patterns that offer a sense of self-control.”(1)

For both artists and non-artists alike it’s important to recognize the challenge that creativity poses to conventional thinking. How tolerant and flexible are you willing to be in order to ignite and flame your creativity?

  1. Hinterthuer, Adam. “Brain Seeks Patterns Where None Exist.” Scientific American, October 3, 2008. January 18, 2016. http://tinyurl.com/omcpmfh
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Eyes and Reflections

TWOZEROTWO_Nove_2015I recently opened an exhibition of new work at Studio TWOZEROTWO in downtown Walla Walla. It was a packed house at the opening reception – a testament to the vitality of the art community here in Walla Walla.

Over the past few years while I was working to complete and install large-scale commissioned sculptures, I made an intentional decision to hold off on publicly exhibiting my personal studio work. During that time however, I continued to explore the ideas and aesthetics that I’d been engaged with over the past two decades. As life is constantly changing, I recognized the necessity to embrace new realities that were now part of my life. I continued to question the validity of ideas that suggested a creative career had to have a linear and specific trajectory. I think we all realize that creativity–much like life–is chaotic, mysterious and often misunderstood. It is also spontaneous, exhilarating and ever-changing. That line of thinking has formed much of the motivation behind the curated selection of works that I decided to exhibit at this time.

Here’s a link to more information and images that relate to the exhibition. http://union-bulletin.com/news/2015/nov/05/squire-broel-portrait-artist/

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