Artist Toni Brou shares her portfolio and talks about the very personal story behind her inspiration.
ABI: You are known for your sun sculptures. What is the story behind them?
TB: In 1999, I was unexpectedly expecting my third son. Both my husband and my father were terminally ill. I found myself repeatedly forming sun faces out of modeling compound while telling myself, “the sun always rises.” It was spontaneous and therapeutic.
My father died; his funeral was the same week as my due date. I could not make the 6-hour drive to attend his services. My dad had always fostered my creativity. My earliest memories include watching him tinker at his workbench, making what he called “junk art” from found objects. The day of his funeral, I spent hours making stuff in his honor. My suns became bigger then, and I began incorporating found objects (hubcaps are my favorite) as a nod to him. My husband died just a year later –the same week as my youngest son’s first birthday. I kept making suns. More and more suns.
I literally pluck lost hubcaps out of ditches. The hubcaps serve as a base – they form the rays of the sun. I hand form and hand paint the faces. These assemblages are my tongue-in-cheek take on hope, redemption, transformation, and triumph. They are about taking what could have been a “woe-is-me” story and turning it into one of resolve.
Most people do not realize at first that they are looking at what was once a hubcap. Making the suns is my therapy, but they seem to make a lot of other people happy in the process, too. They are suitable for interior or exterior display, and over the years have been in galleries across the country and are in private collections around the world. In 2011, I submitted images of my work to CBS Sunday Morning. When the show fades to commercial, sometimes they show some unique piece of sun art just for a moment. The show has broadcast about two dozen of my originals to date.
ABI: How were you inspired to create your collection of whimsical bird art?
TB: Near the end of my husband’s cancer battle in 2000, there was an aviary at the hospice house. Watching the birds was a welcome distraction for our sons, who were 1, 2 and 5. That was a wrenching time. But processing it all years later, I was struck by how much help we received along the journey. Long before we landed there, someone had thought of comforting details like having the aviary. Someone cleaned and maintained it. It dawned on me that even though I often felt alone during that period, we never really were. I try to capture that sense of peace in my birds, as well as the whimsical spirit of my sons when they were little.
ABI: What markets are you interested in pursuing going forward?
TB: I would really like to expand into wholesale and licensing markets. But I will always have a need to continue making my original sun assemblages.