Spotlight On: Spring Nail Art And Looks

Brett McDanel’s mid-Norman sculpture studio could be mistaken for a machine shop at first glance.

Welding equipment, grinders and buckets of bolts suggest a no-nonsense work space. Closer scrutiny reveals delicate animal skeletons, ancient wooden artifacts and a wide variety of odd objects suggesting an artistic bent to the place. McDanel makes sculptures today that would have delighted his surrealist forefathers such as Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp a century ago.

Fantastical birds, otherworldly humans and beasts seen only in dreams spring from the reclaimed industrial material, bones and wood he works with. These creations derive solely from McDanel’s intense imagination. Photos of his work are posted at

“I dig a lot into my past for artistic inspiration,” the thirty-something sculptor said. “A lot come from heartache and sorrow but also from my kids. They’re very inspiring and it has always amazed me how adults and kids look at life differently. As adults we lose our wonderment.”

Playful whimsy and unexpected imagery are a hallmark of McDanel’s creativity. Recurring themes flow through his considerable canon of work that goes back over a decade.

“I think some emotions and some points of life are too big to be explained in one piece,” he said. “Being able to subtly change things to tell the same story is masterful if you can get it done. I like being able to shape the characters I do around certain narratives.”

McDanel has always envied birds in flight and dreams of being able to soar in the sky. He’s parachuted out of perfectly good aircraft in search of the sensation birds experience.

“I’ve done multiple sculptures of the flying guy,” he said. “Sorrow and heartache reoccur because no matter where we get in our lives those things tend to show up just out of nowhere. Everything is fine when you wake up and then something terrible happens.”

McDanel hasn’t always been in the good place he is now with a happy marriage, good kids and vibrant career. With others’ help he overcame personal substance abuse demons. McDanel likens how he crafts bits of reclaimed salvage into art with the way his life eventually was pieced back together into what it is today.

Now, McDanel has attained a measure of success in what does both aesthetically and in the do-re-mi sense. Wealthy patrons around the world display his work at their villas. He makes semi-annual schleps to art mecca Santa Fe, New Mexico replenishing the stock of his sculptures for sale at InArt gallery there.

“I took a bunch of stuff out there and it sold like hotcakes,” he said. “It stands out from the adobe and Native American art that’s everywhere out there. The gallery owner wasn’t sure how it would be received. He’s had collectors who only buy bronze and high-end oil (paintings) come in and buy my work. He told me to build whatever I want and bring it to him.”

Table top size sculptures resembling birds made from clocks, scissors and antique brass keys are popular and it’s easy to see why. But it’s some of the more bizarre concepts that McDanel is most fond of. His imagination sometimes takes macabre twists.

“I’m about to make a flying monkey alá Wizard of Oz,” he said. “A 100-year-old monkey skull is on order from the Philippines for that. It will have wings and be this wild piece of art, but it likely won’t sell.

The figures and birds I do are real popular and sell easily but stuff I like to do is a lot weirder. Bones, metal and wood together are my favorites. I’m building a big horse with a deer skull now. It’s weird.”

McDanel likes the creative license he enjoys now.

“For a long time I got lost chasing money and more things,” he said. “My wife helped change my attitude and she took on more responsibility after I was in a bad car wreck and we lost almost everything while I recovered. With what I’m doing today I have a happiness that I’ve never felt before. I have a relationship with the people in my community, my family and friends that wasn’t possible before because I was so uptight about work, money and things.”

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