Artist William Tunberg helps preserve artwork of marquetry alive

On a heat morning in August, William Tunberg sits throughout from his spouse, Camille, at a glass espresso desk. The trendy piece of furnishings presents a stark distinction to the opposite results round the home: Brightly hued trinket picket containers are neatly organized on the eating desk; sculptural varieties in several shades of wooden adorn the partitions; and a big fruit bowl carved from timber balances precariously on the glass countertop. On nearer inspection, small items of brightly coloured veneer dance from these picket varieties, paying homage to the artwork type Tunberg has spent a lifetime perfecting: marquetry.

It wasn’t at all times his most well-liked medium. Tunberg hails from a household of writers — his father, William Tunberg, wrote the screenplay for “Old Yeller” and his uncle Karl Tunberg, additionally a screenwriter, was nominated for an Academy Award for “Ben-Hur.” But Tunberg at all times wished to be an artist. As a toddler, he copied postage stamps and art work he present in magazines. He painted landscapes of Oregon, the place his grandparents raised him, impressed by the works of de Chirico, Picasso and Magritte in highschool. His love of human portraits was kindled by the French painter Ingres, whose affect grew to become “an irrepressible force in my life,” Tunberg says.

After graduating from USC in 1965, Tunberg put down roots in Venice, Calif., opening a studio that counted Jim Morrison, Ben Talbert and Wallace Berman as his neighbors. Ultimately, he grew to become a life drawing teacher at schools in Oregon and California.

A pair of picket marquetry cubes, created by 86-year-old artist William Tunberg, relaxation on a lounge desk in his house.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Instances)

He additionally started dabbling in assemblage, a type of sculpture the place atypical objects are put collectively to type new items of artwork. “I was captivated by the narrative quality of this art form,” he says, calling assemblage artwork a three-dimensional extension of surrealism.

Because the house for assemblage grew to become crowded within the Eighties, Tunberg began searching for methods to make his artwork stand out. He turned to marquetry, a dying artwork type, to present his assemblages a contemporary look. Tunberg discovered himself particularly drawn to the shape as a result of “no one was doing it” and since it was “not something that was spontaneous.”

Marquetry, which developed within the mid-1500s as a complicated artwork type in Italy, makes use of items of wooden veneers positioned collectively by hand to type distinct designs. The craft grew to become standard in France within the seventeenth century, the place floral marquetry patterns dominated furnishings in the course of the reign of Louis XIV. A few of these historic strategies, together with the usage of a chevalet de marqueterie, a software to chop by means of veneer, are utilized in lessons taught on the École Boulle in Paris and on the American College of French Marquetry in San Diego.

As Tunberg grew to become obsessive about marquetry, he studied historic strategies, together with the usage of horse hoof glue to mix items of veneer. He then began desirous about how he might modernize them.

“I found out that old marquetry takes constant care. It’s always cracking and moving around,” Tunberg says. “I had to find a way to make it a little more tougher, more resilient, so I’ve found techniques and glues and ways that I can use that no one is doing.”

An image of a chair.

An Egypt chair, created by William Tunberg, sits in his house in Venice.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Instances)

By the top of the ’80s, marquetry had turn out to be his dominant medium. For Tunberg, the artwork type is “unrivaled for beauty and visual drama, and it is extremely difficult to use in fine art sculpture.”

Tunberg’s designs begin with a drawing, which he then converts to a vector file on a pc. Brows furrowed, he drags the mouse throughout the brilliant display screen to layer a curvilinear drawing of a blossom atop one other and hits a button. The laser cutter to his proper whirs to life, slicing the blossom design on slivers of plywood. Balancing it fastidiously on his fingertips to his workstation, Tunberg then interchanges the blossoms he simply lower with totally different coloured ones that he’d beforehand lower.

This course of continues till he has half a dozen layers; the easy blossom has been stretched, curved and melded into an intricate, unrecognizable sample. “I want to get very intricate and very complicated so that you don’t recognize one thing and then not see the rest of it,” he says. “The idea is to recognize sections and then make the eye move around.”

An artist works in his studio.

Marquetry artist William Tunberg works in his studio in Venice on Dec. 22, 2022.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Instances)

Sculpture, furnishings, a fruit bowl and even jigsaw-puzzle-shaped storage containers inlaid with marquetry are fantastically displayed round his house, but no two items look the identical. On nearer inspection, Tunberg factors out how the identical blossom sample, gear wheels and a lotus present up in several sculptures — he has a set of solely 50 of the drawings that he makes use of. These easy drawings of florals and different objects that encourage him are his base sample, which he then manipulates into the designs.

“A lot of the drawings are repeated over and over again, because I liked them. So I’ll maybe change a size or angle or something like that,” he says. “I can bend, twist and position in such a way and then overlay something else on top of them and get something more interesting. You get a lot of substance.”

Tunberg’s work is fantasy-oriented, taking the thoughts on a journey of coloration, contour and curvature. His work is a departure from conventional static marquetry, the place patterns and pictures are recognizable. As a substitute of typical parts of landscapes, Tunberg strives to bridge the ornamental advantageous arts with marquetry bearing his personal sensibilities, the place observers can “try and find interesting things that are buried in there, even if you make it up yourself.”

One such piece: Tunberg’s fee by the Fish Interfaith Heart at Chapman College, which concerned him constructing an ark that protects a Torah that was smuggled to security in the course of the Holocaust. Wanting individuals to spend time scrutinizing and learning the artwork piece, he blended Judaism’s Ten Commandments in Hebrew in his marquetry design.

Throughout marquetry’s golden age, within the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the method was used as an ornamental component for furnishings. It made one thing like a credenza “more than a credenza,” as Tunberg explains. “It made it an object to be looked at and took you away from yourself for a period of time.” By incorporating marquetry in furnishings and on a regular basis objects like a fruit bowl, Tunberg seeks to make individuals have a “different identification” with the thing.

“An item of use is also a piece of art so it becomes closer to you,” he says, gesturing on the eating chairs he constructed for the house he shares with Camille, his spouse. One of many chairs is impressed by hibiscus motifs to pay homage to his father-in-law, Alfred Shaheen, credited with popularizing the aloha shirt. “That one,” he factors at a chair, “I just used a veneer because when I put the two pieces of veneer together, it made a kind of animal face.” A Japanese ogi, or fan, is recognizable on a 3rd chair.

A wall sculpture.

A marquetry wall sculpture by 86-year-old marquetry artist William Tunberg hangs in his house in Venice.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Instances)

Camille has been instrumental in documenting Tunberg’s work, and enrolled in net design lessons at a area people faculty to assist him create a web site for his items. The couple hope that Tunberg’s method to marquetry woodwork will survive, regardless of the challenges the medium poses for future generations.

Tunberg nonetheless undertakes commissions for giant industrial tasks — specialty sculptures for uncommon areas, furnishings, partitions and spiritual objects. Not too long ago, he created vessels to deal with Chapman College’s assortment of uncommon antiquities, together with a sculptural showcase defending a seven-volume assortment of the St. John’s Bible, which was handwritten utilizing medieval strategies of calligraphy and illumination, and a 7-foot-tall cupboard to show a fifteenth century Quran.

However on that heat August day, Tunberg put down the plywood and made plans with Camille to have a good time his 86th birthday with a quiet lunch from Complete Meals. Tomorrow, it’s again to creating the artwork he loves so dearly.