Jeff Huckleberry is naked. He’s standing in front of four huge pieces of plywood parallel to one another, each separated by about a foot. They’re about an inch thick but at least 7 feet tall, looming over his 6’5” frame. Slowly, methodically, he starts leaning into the first piece of wood, putting all his weight into the board. The wood starts to creak and splinter and he forces his way through, careful to keep his tender parts free from shards.
Huckleberry, 44, has been a part of the performance art world for 23 years. After growing up in the Colorado mountains, he moved to Boston to attend the Museum School. In the two decades since, Huckleberry has blossomed into one of the world’s most arresting physical artists, spreading his gospel of paint and wood from Canada to Poland. He’s also gained a family—his wife of 18 years, Sandy, and their son, Wilder.
“It’s a very personal, internal experience for me,” Huckleberry tells me over the phone. “I don’t think about the audience at the show, I think about the what’s happening to me, the feeling of wood cracking. I wanted people to get that close, so I started shooting video.”
His performance art is always filmed, often a very simple one-camera setup. “Having these videos was probably the best decision I’ve made with regards to my art,” he said. “After I sent them out I was invited to festivals all over the world, it became easier to show what I was doing.”
The performance art community began to take notice, and Huckleberry soon found himself fielding offers from universities to come teach. ”It doesn’t make real sense to me, to be honest,” he laughs. “Performance is what you make it, I’m not sure what I could be teaching.”
– Graham Corrigan