- “Compassion” depicts two figures facing away from one another. Urruty leaves it to the viewer to create a story to surround the figures.
I never planned on being an artist,” Joel Urruty admits. “I was brought up to be responsible and practical.” He studied industrial design at San Francisco State University because it married practical skills with his artistic side. After graduating, he was faced with a decision—design packaging for little plastic parts or look for something else. That something else came soon after, in the form of a yearlong apprenticeship with furniture maker David Marks.
Urruty originally reconciled his decision with the logic that furniture is functional, and functional is practical. He began working in a co-op that gave him time to create one-of-a-kind art furniture; a few years later, he went back to school, completing his master’s in furniture design and woodworking at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1996.
The turning point in Urruty’s art came in 1998, when he created his first sculptural piece. “I started to bring my sculptures to shows along with my furniture and soon realized that I was selling more sculpture than furniture,” he says. Over the next few years, Urruty made the permanent switch to sculpture. In his current focus, “Lady Series,” figures tell a story through human emotion.
Beginning with a sketch, Urruty constructs a rough form that he works with power tools and finishes with hand planes, spokeshaves and chisels. Often, he embellishes the forms with decorative surface treatments using a V gouge and contrasting wood. To achieve universal forms in his sculpture, Urruty pares down faces to cheekbones and chins. Bodies become shoulders and legs, and all are combined to reveal a primitive body rich in feeling.
As a rule, the art is complete only when the viewer interacts with the sculpture. “I have received letters from clients on how much the work means to them on a personal and emotional level. It is a strange feeling to know that your work can have such a deep impact on people,” Urruty notes. It turns out that sculptural is practical after all.