John Buck is well known for his carved wood and bronze sculptures and monumental woodblock prints. In recent years, he has turned his attention to creating ever-more-complex mechanical kinetic sculptures. Buck is an artist who is fascinated by the cultural imagery surrounding his two homes (one in Bozeman, Montana, and the other on the Big Island of Hawaii), current events, popular culture, and the irony inherent in world history. This collected visual vocabulary weaves through his sculptural and print works.
Who Is John Buck?
by Linda Tesner
On John Buck's right inner forearm, there is a tattoo of a vintage pinup cowgirl; on the same spot on his left arm is a hula dancer. Both images are rendered in the style of the noted tattoo artist Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins. And, by the way, the two girls are joined by a tattoo of Buck's restored J. H. Fay & Co. bandsaw on his outer right forearm. These three tattoos are iconic emblems that speak volumes about Buck's life.
Buck is a master --no, a wizard-- with wood. It is likely that he can carve virtually any object that he might conjure in his imagination. His deft ability at whittling form out of a block of jelutong is legendary. But he blanches a bit when his work is compared to folk ar or outsider art, which it inevitably, is. Buck's brilliant kinetic works share something with whirligigs, tobacco-store Indians, and wooden mechanical toys.
In a contemporary art world override by conceptual art, new media, social practice, and time-based performance, such hand-hewn work as Buck's wood sculptures and woodblock prints have been largely overlooked by curators and critics in favor of slicker, more fashionable work. But Buck's work is danglier in both exception and suppression, and it advances a venerable tradition of American sculpture and printmaking that deserves more careful examination.
The complete version of this essay can be read in "Who Is John Buck?" by Linda Tesner. Printed in the book: John Buck. Published by Marquand Books, 2014.