Artist Tommy Bruce’s many-sided art practice comments on identity construction, often through his real-life renderings of furries.  

Albuquerque, NM | | @tommybruce

Something about furry fandom stuck with Tommy Bruce as a teenager. Today, his many-sided art practice comments on identity construction, often through Bruce’s real-life renderings of furries—an often-denounced internet subculture of people who adore anthropomorphized animals.

“It used to be that it was easy to distinguish the in-real-life from the virtual. Now, it seems the two worlds are colliding, spilling into one another for better and for worse,” the Albuquerque-based artist says. “New frontiers of identification and social communication birthed online now find their way into everyday discourse.”

Bruce—who earned an MFA in studio art from the University of New Mexico in 2020 and a BFA in photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2014—employs photography, performance, writing, video, and experimental digital media in commenting on ecology, technology, media, and sexuality considerations that inform identity. Sometimes, Bruce literally plays the part.

“My fursona, Atmus, a white-tailed deer, acts as my stand-in and muse in my work. The series Real Problems came out of a fascination with portraying him in scenes of peril or faux violence,” Bruce writes. “Atmus is both a part of and apart from me; enacting these morbid fantasies feels like catharsis for my anxieties about our current crises.”

Bruce created the character Atmus and commissioned artists in the furry community to create the costume, which is made of acrylic and foam materials. The anthropomorphized results are striking—and possibly uncomfortably too real for some viewers.

“The environments I set them in are collaged from sites of fantasy: video games, cartoons, and the like,” Bruce explains. “Both the figures and these spaces present a fantasy-made reality and one that has only been made possible by our deepening relationship to technology. I wonder, if I am living half my life through the screen, who is to say the person I am on there is not the real me?”

Bruce’s solo exhibition New Fauna is now on view at Ellsworth Gallery in Santa Fe through July 4, 2021.

He is represented by Ellsworth Gallery, Santa Fe.

-Steve Jansen, Southwest Contemporary 

Kris & Mouse

Kris & Mouse, 2016. Photograph

Real Problems #2 (Lost Head)

Real Problems #2 (lost head), 2020. Photograph with digital collage

Kickstart (ribcage shirt)

Kickstart (ribcage shirt), 2015. Photograph

Moji's back

Moji’s Back, 2016. Photograph

Tommy Bruce

Artist Tommy Bruce