Born in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, Brian Grossman grew up in a military family. They moved often and traveled extensively but eventually settled in Boulder, Colorado which has been home to Brian ever since.
Brian has always been a creative spirit. Inspired by an art teacher, he began drawing in junior high and it quickly became a means of escape for a boy imprisoned in an abusive childhood.
A couple of years later, he got his first taste of sculpting in a high school wood working class but his latent talent would not be awakened for some years to come. Meanwhile, he poured his energy into sports and became a jock, constantly striving to prove himself, seeking the validation he had been deprived of throughout his childhood.
In 1969, upon graduating from high school, Brian enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard where he served four years with Search and Rescue during which time, he received the Coast Guard Commendation Medal which is awarded to those who distinguish themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.
Meanwhile, he continued to find refuge in drawing.
In 1973, after being released from the service, Brian decided to become a commercial artist. He enrolled at the University of Seattle but soon discovered he didn’t have the means to pay the non-resident tuition fees so he returned home where he applied to the University of Colorado in Boulder.
At the time, CU had no commercial art program, so Brian signed up for a degree in Fine Arts instead. He proceeded to gain what knowledge he could from the basic art classes that were mandatory for a Fine Arts degree and it was one of those classes that provided a pivotal turning point.
One day, after completing an assignment for sculpting class, a wax sculpture of a seated nude, Brian suddenly felt guided to cut the piece in half and incorporate wood into it even though he had no idea how to execute his idea. He then went to his teacher and asked him how to make a piece in mahogany. “He didn’t tell me how, he just told me where to go to get the materials I needed.” It was a huge risk but an inspired moment because out of it, M’lady was born, a mixed media sculpture in mahogany and wax: a work of beauty that stunned the entire class.
For Brian, it was a moment of revelation. For the first time in his life, he had experienced the rapture of pure inspiration, a stark contrast for a man who had always been driven by external influences, and it ignited his passion for sculpting.
With the creation of M’lady, Brian gave birth to a style that continues to influence his work today. It was a defining moment that would shape his life in years to come. In addition to his love of sculpting, it also precipitated a lifelong exploration of the masculine and feminine aspects of himself which Brian now views as a metaphor for his attempts to piece together a fractured life.
Instructors at the college were so impressed by Brian’s innovation and enthusiasm that the school, in recognition of his blossoming talent, was encouraged to provide him with independent study. During that time, Brian also developed a love of English literature while he continued to pursue sports. He became a star athlete who stood out in national weightlifting competitions and Category 2 bike racing.
In 1979, Brian graduated from UC Boulder with a Bachelors Degree in both Fine Arts and English.
He then accepted an invitation to work in the local foundry where he learned a number of new skills, including the art of casting bronze. The owner of the foundry, Chuck Quigley, became Brian’s mentor and the knowledge and guidance that he provided over the next 12 years would have a profound and lasting impact on the direction of Brian’s creativity.
A Turning Point
In the meantime, in addition to honing his art, Brian continued to excel in competitive bike racing. But in 1984, things came to a screeching halt. While taking out the garbage one day, out of the blue, he suddenly fell. For some reason, the finely tuned muscles and acute sense of balance that had always assured him success on the open road had suddenly failed him. As Brian tells it, little did he know that in that moment, life as he knew it was about to go out with the trash!
After numerous trips to the doctor, Brian was finally diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The prognosis was devastating. They told him that over time he would slowly lose the use of his body. It might take months or years but eventually he’d be forced to walk with canes before becoming wheelchair bound, then bedridden, and then . . .
Brian Shares His Story
Confronted by mortality and armed with the cold hard facts, I began a new journey as I set my focus on the path of creativity. My dreams of winning championships astride a racing bicycle began to fade. The alabaster I chose as my medium called to me, despite my rapidly debilitating condition, and as I carved, I began to learn, not just how to hear the story in the stone, but how to take better care of my self. I discovered that by changing my diet and lowering my stress levels, my symptoms decreased and became more manageable, and I was able to go on living independently.
Today, after 30 years, I am still able to live independently and most importantly, to continue working in my studio. Although every day is a struggle and I know I will never “get better,” I manage, albeit with the support of home health care and the help of many, many friends.
Of course, nothing can change the fact that I have an incurable disease that continues to advance. Over time, however, I have come to view my disease as a “gift.” Not only has it has opened up many new pathways to me but it has broadened my perspective.
One thing I’ve learned for sure is this: The mechanism for learning is living. The mechanism for living is learning. Simply put, I am alive because of my life’s creative needs: the need for both sculpting and living outside the box.
I grew up believing I was inherently defective and struggled for many years because I could not see that my life had any value. Now I know that my life has purpose. Otherwise, I wouldn’t still be here. For whatever reason, I am meant to sculpt and that is what gives me the strength to endure.
BRIAN GROSSMAN – Boulder, CO