- “Hidden” incorporates fused glass, wood, paper and steel.
By the time Charissa Brock entered college, she’d handled just about every traditional craft medium, from glass and clay to metal, wood and fiber. It was a search for natural materials to use in teaching during graduate school, though, that led her to a bamboo grove.
At first sight of this unexpected gold mine, images of patterns and forms started flashing through Brock’s mind. And she knew that she had just found the perfect medium for making the objects she visualized.
Making art has been part of Brock’s life since her early childhood in New Mexico. Her mother, glass artist Emily Brock, created an experimental environment for her and her younger sister Kendra. The studio was a place to play, where the girls had free rein to handle glass scraps, tools and equipment.
“I don’t know what normal families do,” laughs Brock. “In ours, weekend fun involved seeing an art exhibit, building a kiln, tying Plexiglas into knots, or helping Mom prepare work for an upcoming exhibition.”
Brock also spent many summers on her grandparents’ flower farm in Grants Pass, Ore., and she remembers once being captivated by her grandfather’s description of how a tree’s sphere of growth could enfold her with its visible leaves and branches above and its extensive yet invisible system of roots below.
Her deliberate choice of natural materials in her artwork comes from such childhood influences, combined with a philosophical approach developed through her experiences with other artists. It was basketmaker Dorothy Gill Barnes, for example, who taught Brock to gather tree bark in a way that causes the least possible impact on nature. Bamboo provides a sustainable natural material that enables Brock to operate within, rather than against, nature.
Classically trained, Brock recalls drawing every bone in the body while studying at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. The exercise taught her an important lesson about how her mind works. “Arranging things on paper is not what I see,” she explains. “I understand how a painter lays a mark, and then creates a second one in communication with the first. But my brain wants to take the paper and fold it into a shape instead.”
That course revealed more than her interest in fabrication and three dimensional forms. It inspired her to use her hands to translate the close observations of nature that she had been making since childhood.
Through workshops with sculptor Lissa Hunter, graduate coursework with fiber artist Rebecca Medel, and recent friendships and conversations with basketmakers Nancy Moore Bess and Jiro Yonezawa, Brock has continually collected new approaches to structure building. Her unique approach combines a range of weaving, basketry and sewing techniques with the aesthetics of sculpture—filling a cavity with a honeycomb of densely stacked bamboo, arranging glass leaf forms to mimic an opening flower or creating a basket form that echoes the movement of the wind.
It is Brock’s physical engagement with her materials that drives the vocabulary of her forms. Remarkably versatile, bamboo provides a single material through which Brock can experiment, transform and create structures with both natural and cultural references. But it does require a complex preparation process. After the bamboo is gathered from backyards, gardens and farms all around Oregon, it must be dried for at least six months to remove moisture. Brock then prepares the bamboo with heat to harden it and make it less appealing to insects.
Once the preparations are complete, the bamboo, like wood, can be cut, stacked, glued and sanded. Using basketry techniques, it can also be split, bent, woven and sewn. Building one piece reveals new approaches for the next, leading Brock to explore linearity in one form, movement in another and the tension between solidity and vacancy in a third.
“In the abstract objects I create, I incorporate a continuous narrative of my own internal culture, one that includes all that I am exposed to,” says Brock. Her work shares stories of how she uses a single material to merge a wealth of influences, creating beautiful objects that simultaneously reveal conceptual complexity and the pleasure of their construction.
Brock’s work is available at Cervini Haas Gallery in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s retail gallery in Portland, Ore., and Snyderman-Works Galleries in Philadelphia, Pa.