Russell Wrankle

I was raised on the outskirts of Palm Springs, California in what we called the “boonies”. We had only three channels on the TV and they came in fuzzy.  There wasn’t much to do but wander the desert with my .22 caliber rifle, shooting things, mostly jack rabbits and cotton tails.

My dad was a gardener to  the stars and the elite of Palm Springs. In my formative years,  I mowed the lawns of Steve McQueen, Ally McGraw, Barry Manilow, Liberace and others, most notably the Elrod House designed by the well known modernist architect, John Lautner . The architecture of most of these houses were mid-century modern and at the time I didn’t appreciate being  intimate with the space of these dwellings, but in my older years I think there might be a relationship between my  interest in art making and those early life experiences with architectural line, pattern and texture.

Coming from a blue collar background, I assumed I would be doing some form of manual labor job since I was raised to believe that true manhood and labor go hand in hand. By chance, I went to college, took a ceramics class and that changed everything.

That first class was the beginning of an art filled life that includes experiences and relationships with the creative class that I never could have imagined when shooting rabbits and mowing lawns as a kid. The arts have enriched my life and the lives of my family and has opened doors that many just dream of.

In 2001 we moved to Toquerville, Utah, a small town in the midst of a spactacular landscape. Our house sits on the road to Zion National Park and the plan was to make pottery and tiles to sell to the passing tourists. It worked. I couldn’t make work fast enough and we met so many wonderful people from all over the world. During this time  I was also making animal sulpture. It turned out that the tourist market for my pottery kept me too busy to investigate sculpture to my satisfaction and my interest in making pottery began to wain.  I abandoned pottery making altogether in 2009 and devoted all my studio practice to sculpture.

About the same time, I started teaching at Southern Utah University as adjunct professor. After three years of teaching adjunct, the position opened up to full time, tenure track status. I applied for the position and two years ago, I took the post of Assistant Professor of Art at Southern Utah University where I teach 3D and 2D Design, Multi Media and Ceramic Sculpture.  Joining the ranks of academia later in life gives me an added appreciation for the craft of teaching, the academic life and relationships with peers that I admire and who keep me on my toes, intellectually.

With teaching, art making, exhibiting and three kids, we manage to stay busy.

When I first conceived of this current body of work (Top 7 Images in Portflio), before any work was actually made, I thought it would be a continuation of my then current studio practice of putting various animals in varied contexts. After making the “Hare Muzzle” piece, the original concept became background noise and this current body of work took shape.

As a University professor, I teach my students to make their artistic discovery in the process. One can think of and imagine ideas but until there’s haptic activity, where the hand, material and mind are activated together, one cannot know what might be discovered.

When making the “Hare Muzzle” piece (shown here), I began to recall stories from childhood, that if a master has a chicken-killing dog, one could strap the killed chicken to the dog’s neck until the dead chicken rots off. I have asked around and it seems that it’s not entirely uncommon and someone recently confessed to witnessing this practice and confirmed its usefulness.

Tension and gravity has, for a long time, been a driving consideration in my work. I use Tromp l’oeil elements such as: strapping, knotting and fleshiness, and a strong commitment to craftsmanship as a vehicle to support the conceptual in my work. In this case, the idea of strapping various animals to dogs seemed like the perfect marriage of my existing technical repertoire and this new concept.