A masterwork by J.B. Blunk, rarely seen at auction, will sell on June 12th in Rago's 20th/21st C. auction of decorative arts.
The headboard sculpture, lot 1408 in the sale, is described in the catalogue as follows: J.B. Blunk headboard, USA, 1971. Sculpted, cross-hatched, chiseled and honed American black walnut; Provenance: Nash Collection, Sausalito, CA; 60" x 144" x 12". Pre-sale estimate: $30,000-40,000.
J.B. Blunk (1926-2003) was born in the Midwest and attended UCLA, studying with the ceramist Laura Andreson. Following his service in the Korean War, Blunk went to Japan, where he met sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Through this acquaintance he continued his work as a ceramist under the apprenticeship of potters Rosanjin Kitaoji and Toyo Kaneshige. Blunk returned to the USA in 1954, settling in Inverness, California on the coast of Marin County.
Though his body of work includes ceramics, jewelry, painting and large sculptures in bronze and stone, it is his work in wood, dating from 1962, for which he is best known. Called a master of the chain saw, Blunk's craftsmanship in woodworking evokes comparison to California studio craftsman Arthur Espenet, Sam Maloof, and John Stocksdale, as well as the Pennsylvanians George Nakashima, Phil Powell and Wharton Esherick. His circle included surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford, Jean Tinguely and Lee Mullican. Blunk's work draws on all these influences and more: the aesthetic of Japanese design; the natural world; Zen Buddhism; the anthropomorphic shapes and abstractions of Surrealism; ethnographic art and artifacts. It is sculpture always, functional when he so chose. In no way was Blunk concerned with boundaries.
In lot 1408, two massive slabs of American black walnut, likely from the same tree, are selectively smoothed, chiseled, chipped, hatched and honed. Placed at perpendiculars to form the headboard, the vertical slab animates into a massive head with winking visage and the horizontal, into its long and slender body. The scale is architectural. The effect at once modern and totemic, powerful and witty.
Those interested in Blunk's work can find examples in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Art; the Oakland Museum; and the University of California, Santa Cruz, among other institutions. We also refer you to the J.B. Blunk website.
"Rago's has sold thousands of lots by great studio craftsman in the past 15 years - Nakashima, Esherick, Maloof, Powell, Evans. This is the first work by J.B. Blunk to make its way to our auction house, one of fewer than 20 pieces to ever come to auction" David Rago. "It's a privilege to represent it."