Artist Brian Grossman may have inherited a life of struggle with multiple sclerosis, but he isn’t sentenced to it. The sculptor remains optimistic and fulfilled by a demanding medium, cranking out unique pieces in a north Boulder studio to tell his story.
“I just want people to enjoy what I do,” Grossman says, “And you have to use your own creativity, which is why I do abstract work.” The 66-year-old considers himself lucky to just be alive and doing the work he loves.
“I’ve always been a physical guy,” Grossman says, “Especially when I was younger. I used to lift weights.” But today he uses a wheelchair to get around, having lived with MS for over two decades. Now Grossman uses his work to transcend the physical limitations of his body, sculpting figures that embody the strength of the human spirit.
Grossman carries on his work through the help of friends and a CBD tincture. “It calms my nervous system,” he says, which is essential for working with his hands. A compound of the cannabis plant, CBD has shown potential to treat the pain, inflammation, muscle spasticity and even depression associated with MS, though studies are limited.
Grossman takes his tincture daily, doing his best to keep the pain and fatigue at bay as he molds his thoughts and feelings into his work. His pieces look almost extraterrestrial, as if out of a science fiction movie. To date,
Grossman has made close to 1,400 sculptures.
“People ask me all the time, what does my work mean? I tell them [that] it's whatever you want it to mean," he explains. "I start carving a piece, and whatever happens, happens. I usually have no vision of what it will be when I start."
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Viewers are encouraged to interact with Grossman's work. By mounting his sculptures on a 360-degree rotating platform, they get to experience a piece from every perspective.
Grossman was born at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas; his father was in the military, so his family moved around until settling in Boulder. He says that his father was abusive, and he started developing his artistic talents to escape some of the abuse. After a long road of healing the conflict within himself, Grossman was diagnosed with MS in 1984 following an unexpected fall. But stints in the hospital gave him new perspective on the healing process, and he became very focused on sculpture.
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However, Grossman's childhood memories still haunted him as an adult, and he struggled to move on. It wasn’t until he found therapy that he realized he struggled with unresolved trauma. He now uses visual stimulation practices to release fear associated with certain memories, but it can be a painful practice. To help the exercises go smoothly, Grossman has used CBD as a sort of lubrication; he says it also helps him sleep better at night and regulates his emotions throughout the day.
“I feel like I have been granted disability. The idea that my body could become a liability was the farthest thought from my mind,” he says.
A veteran of the United States Coast Guard, bicycle racing and competitive power-lifting, Grossman won many accolades for his strength and endurance in his younger years. Despite a very different physical life now, he's able to work through the physical limitations of MS by creating work that undermines the disease entirely.
“All of my work reflects where I was at the time, and I was just trying to figure out who I was. The conventional fame, which at one time seemed so important, eludes me, and I wonder what the next chapter in my life is,” he says.