Austin-based installation artist Brad Tucker has just released his first book, and here's what he has to say about its critical reception: "I'm just thrilled to think that some kid will be chewing on the pages."
Dunes at Noons is that rare art book that isn't meant to go on your coffee table. A small-sized board book with stiff, durable cardboard pages rounded off at the corners, it's suitable for the youngest generation of art enthusiasts – the under-3 set.
Tucker, who studied painting and drawing at the University of North Texas and got his MFA in sculpture from Bard College in 2009, has long integrated abstract shapes, bright colors, and simple word play into his art. He is also a father of two. This made him a perfect fit for the Soberscove Press Artists' Board Book Series, a collection of children's art books made with water-resistant aqueous coatings and nontoxic soy inks by a small press in Chicago.
On a hot summer day in 2013, Tucker set out for the Texas Monahans Sandhills State Park with a series of his sculptures – colorful, spindly zig-zags and lattices that stand upright in the sand dunes without external supports, almost as if by their own volition. The resulting images are spare, beautiful, and strangely playful, as the shapes, repeated in criss-crossing shadows on the dunes, seem to bound over the horizon under a saturated blue sky. There is no overlaid text, but a few words made from soft foam letters or shadows on the sand peek out from the sculptures: "pets," "wild," "grasses." Tucker describes the effect as that of a "concrete poem."
The book's rhyming title has a Seussian sound, but in pluralizing "noon," Tucker also wanted to evoke the constantly changing dunes and the way sand is used as a metaphor for time. "This is kind of a timeless setting, but it's also a setting that's continually in time, shifting. So each noon might be in one sense the same, but also a little different."
Tucker was attracted to something else about the austere setting: "It's a giant sandbox." For Tucker, whose one-man band bears the anagrammatic name Bad Trucker, playfulness is an important quality that can be hard to integrate into the artistic experience for adults: "It's hard to get around the expectations people have of contemporary art, when they go to a gallery. There's a certain seriousness."
Tucker, who teaches art classes at both Texas State University and Hudson Bend Middle School, hopes the book appeals to adults and children alike. But for pre-verbal kids especially, he sees it as a way to help build "visual literacy." His own earliest memories of engaging with art, he says, come from a picture book about trucks he had as a small child.
"Kids can look at the pictures and not have to feel, 'What is this picture there for?' They can enjoy it for what it is." And the book's most enthusiastic critics may even do a little gnawing.
Dunes at Noons will be available at Farewell Books and the Blanton Museum of Art on Friday, as well as through the Soberscove Press website.
Copyright © 2014 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.