1 of 2
Rubin Peacock's "Untitled Totem" at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (courtesy Jackie Kruszewski)
2 of 2
Sculptor Rubin Peacock at home with some of his artwork (courtesy Jackie Kruszewski)
Rubin Peacock isn’t one for artist statements.
“Everything doesn’t have a meaning,” he says, half joking. “It’s just stuff.”
His Brook Road gallery is lined with a lifetime of bronze sculptures, paintings and figurines. Some are fluid and bulbous, others angular and severe.
“There’s nothing here that is a consistency. People say, ‘Where are you coming from?’ But I know exactly where they all belong.”
He touches one gently. “I do a lot of this kind of thing just because I can — and it’s fun.”
Peacock’s work has graced corporate headquarters and private collections in Richmond for years, but recently one of his pieces has a new, public home. Installed last month, “Untitled Totem” is the 13th sculpture on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts grounds — and the first by a Virginia artist.
A Rorschach test of lines, curves and markings make up the 5-foot-high sculpture, edges smooth and shiny, the body patina green. Smaller than many others in the garden, it lives on a pedestal close to the Pauley Center, protected by the classical limestone.
“I think I was pretty much pre-destined to be an artist,” says Peacock. “[Growing up,] I used to make things out of clay in the local creek bed.”
After a Peace Corps stint in Jamaica and graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University, the North Carolina native has made Richmond his home base for decades.
He bought the angled, three-story building on Brook in 1982 for $42,500, and needed a truck and ladder to get up to the second floor. “This place was full of dung — a foot high. And pigeons of every stage of life — dead ones, babies. I used a piece of wood to scrape back and see if the floors were any good or not.” (They were.)
Only recently, a friend persuaded Peacock to take down the first-floor curtains covering the storefront and add a sign with his name to the façade. At the top are the words “Cire Perdue” — “lost wax” in French — a reference to the complicated casting process Peacock uses.
“It’s all about expression, that space between reality and the spiritual, a pleasurable freedom that very few people find time to do,” he says. “I’ve made it my mission in life to be free from too many burdens.”
Peacock may not be able to pinpoint the aesthetic inspiration for “Untitled Totem,” but it was originally designed in 1978 as a gift for two friends who played important roles in his early career.
Henrietta Near commissioned the VMFA’s 2005 version as a memorial for her departed husband, Pinkney, a curator at the museum for 30 years. It lived in her Fan garden for a decade before she donated it last year.
It weathers the outdoors well. “Bronze is the ultimate material,” says Peacock. “It’s forever, and it has unlimited possibilities.”
Peacock’s work is full of meaning for Jennie Dotts, a docent at the VMFA and local real estate agent. She’s been a supporter since helping him sell an 18th-century King William County farmhouse he restored.
“Rubin is such an important artist,” says Dotts, who is hosting a private reception at the museum this week to celebrate the sculpture’s installation. “Not a lot of people work in bronze like he does. And he does everything: He does his own castings, his own waxing. It’s all really full of life.”
Of “Untitled Totem,” Dotts says, “it’s like a magnet, it really grabs your attention. It’s got a very classical, ancient feel. It embodies history even though it’s very contemporary. All of his work has an old soul.”
It’s especially visible from the atrium outside Best Café.
That means the thousands of people who walk through the museum, picnic in the garden, or visit during happy hour at the tables nearby are likely to view Peacock’s statue.
No artist statement necessary.