Some 62 years ago, Daniel Brush, a 13-year-old from Cleveland, stood in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London having a formative experience.
His mother had brought him there as part of a European tour intended to, as he later put it, open up his eyes. The visit to the Victoria and Albert certainly had that effect, especially the jewelry rooms and one particular ancient gold Etruscan bowl decorated with an esoteric technique called granulation.
“I didn’t know what granulation was then,” Mr. Brush told The New York Times in 2012, “but I saw a gold bowl with a bunch of tiny balls on it. I thought, ‘I have to make something like that in my lifetime.’”
If that was some kind of destiny, Mr. Brush had by the time of that interview fulfilled it and then some. He had become an artist known — at first to a small group of cognoscenti, but gradually to a wider circle — for one-of-a-kind works defined by their detail and the devotion that went into them. His jewelry was often intended not so much to be worn as to be cherished. His small sculptures drew comparisons to Fabergé eggs for their delicacy and their small-scale artistry. He made works inspired by rituals of the Tendai Buddhist monks of Japan and works inspired by watching his son dip animal crackers into milk.
“He crosses boundaries certainly more than anyone I can think of,” Holly Hotchner, then the director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, said in 2012, when that museum mounted “Daniel Brush: Blue Steel Gold Light,” the first wide survey of his work.
Mr. Brush died on Nov. 26 in Manhattan. He was 75.
His wife, Olivia Brush, confirmed the death. No cause was given.
Mr. Brush was by choice a well-kept secret in the art world for many years, spurning the gallery scene, commissions and dealer representation. Collectors who heard of his work could come calling at the loft in the Flatiron district of Manhattan where he and his wife, also an artist, lived and worked, but “it’s often ‘no sale’ because he requires a personal connection and a sense that buyers will be sensitive caretakers of his art,” The Times wrote in 2012.
A 1998 exhibition at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, “Daniel Brush: Gold Without Boundaries,” brought him new visibility. But even after that, articles about him tended to describe him as “hermitlike,” “elusive,” “enigmatic” and “reclusive.”
He had a morning ritual of sweeping the loft for several hours, “just as a Buddhist monk might sweep the temple ground in meditation,” The Times wrote in 2020. The loft held antique scissors, an 18th-century lathe and assorted other vintage objects and machines, a testament to Mr. Brush’s self-taught mastery of techniques like the aforementioned granulation — visitors who took a magnifying glass to some of his jewelry and other pieces saw that they were adorned with strings of grainlike bits of gold.
“What struck me in his work is his demanding nature and his ability to work gold, aluminum and steel with absolute precision,” Nicolas Bos, chief executive of Van Cleef & Arpels, the French jewelry company, wrote in the preface to the 2019 book “Daniel Brush: Jewels Sculpture.” “He claims to be a goldsmith, a jeweler and a metalworker, but I think, before everything, there’s a sort of magician within him.”
Daniel David Brush was born on Jan. 22, 1947, in Cleveland. His parents, Arthur and Clara (Gross) Brush, owned a clothing store for children.
He started taking art classes as a child. “I could draw the armor at the Cleveland Museum of Art pretty well,” he told The Times in 2012.
After the inspirational trip to Europe when he was 13, he went on to earn a bachelor of fine arts degree at what is now Carnegie Mellon University in 1969 and a master of fine arts degree at the University of Southern California in 1971. At Carnegie Mellon he met a fellow student, Lynn Alpert; they married in 1969, and she began using the name Olivia Brush.
In the 1970s, after graduate school, Mr. Brush taught at Georgetown University and his paintings began to attract some notice; some were included in a group show at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington in 1976. But he had become uneasy with teaching.
“The job of the school was to fit their bright students into the job market,” he said in a 2021 interview with Melanie Grant, a prominent jewelry writer. “Parents wanted to pay for an education that provided work and upward mobility.”
“I felt my job should be to encourage endless spirals of confusion to help students think critically, to encourage questions, to not only look from left field at a situation but to create a whole new vantage point for the situation,” he added.
So he and his wife relocated to New York, and he began focusing intently on his art — though, he acknowledged in a 2017 interview with Women’s Wear Daily, his fan base was limited.
“I am available, and people can come and they can look, and every once in a while they come,” he said. “So what happened in the past 30 years is I became immensely famous to 10 people, and five died.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Brush is survived by their son, Silla.
Ms. Brush said that for her husband, “life and work were synonymous.”
“There was no beginning or ending to the day,” she said by email. “If in the middle of the night something he was thinking about bothered him, he would get up and go back to work. Our studio, in which we both lived and worked, is undivided. Our son grew up in an environment where machinery, canvases and stacks of metal were right in front of his bedroom.”
If his work defied categorization, she said, that was by his own choice.
“He always rejected categories of art and loved going back and forth between painting, drawing, sculpture and jewelry — going wherever his mind went,” she said. “Whichever work he was making was meaningful. They were all ways of learning. The work and the act of making it possessed him at a deep emotional level that people often said they could feel or see.”
That was his hope.
“If you can stop someone for a tiny bit, if my work can be a mirror in some way for their own feeling, they’ll go and look at other art and the whole experience becomes a beautiful thing,” he said in 1998. “If they can look at my work and hear my heart pounding, what they really hear is their heart pounding.”