Friday, March 25, 2016

"Perpetual Motion - Contemporary Interpretations of Fine Art Automata" Opens April 16th at Heron Arts in San Francisco

Since becoming a full time artist in 2000, I thought it would be amazing to have a show of all kinetic, figurative pieces - a show of artists that do work similar to mine. Thanks to the internet, I have discovered many artists that make automata; and they have discovered me. (And the word automata seems to be coming more and more recognizable here in the US. Over in Europe and the UK, automata is a pretty common term. People understand what it is. Over here, when I say I make automata, people get this blank look on their faces...... until I say it's figurative, kinetic artwork.)

The show opens April 16th, 2016 at Heron Arts, 7 Heron Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
***  Opening Reception is from 7 - 10pm   ***

More info here. Heron Arts is open Weds-Sat 3-7pm, and the show will be up until May 14th.

How it came to be.........

Last summer, Noah Antieau from Red Truck Gallery, asked if I would co-curate an automata show. Since the idea has been simmering in the back of my head, I jumped at the chance. My list of artists was pretty much a no-brainer, though I did do a little research to make sure I wasn't missing anyone. I made a short list, Noah made his picks from my list, and we whittled our roster down to 10. These 10 artists were culled from all over the globe. Most are multi-talented creators of fine kinetic sculpture. Working in various materials, these artists aim to tell stories with their work. Not satisfied with just the ability to make a static sculpture move, the artists push their audiences to examine - and interpret - the narrative of each piece for themselves.

Our Artists......

Dean Lucker and Ann Wood, USA   A husband and wife team in Minneapolis, who have been working together since 1987; they make a variety of beautiful kinetic pieces that range from simple to complex. Sometimes personal, sometimes fictional - their elegant work is highly captivating; and prized by collectors.

Thomas Kuntz, USA  A super-talented creator living in Los Angeles, CA. A master of the 'old way' of making automata, Thomas has the skills of a jeweler, the dexterity of a clock maker, and the eye of a fine sculptor. He uses many antique devices to fabricate incredibly intricate tableaux.  Highly regarded as a maestro in his field, his automata work was recently featured in Guillermo del Toro's latest movie, "Crimson Peak".

Paul Spooner, UK  Paul has been creating amazing works of whimsy out of Stithians, Cornwall for the past 35 years. He often makes delightful, and insightful, wooden figures - propelled by ingenious mechanical devices. Paul’s work combines humor and an obsessive attention to detail, with delightful and intriguing mechanisms.

Richard Landon, USA  Though new to the field of automata, Richard has spent many years as a special effects expert for the film industry. His many credits include work on Edward Scissorhands', Jurassic Park, Aliens, Life of Pi, and The Terminator.

Chris Fitch, USA
  A multi-disciplined artist from the Boston area. Chris' creations include a large range of kinetic works, using a variety of materials. He doesn't limit his imagination, or his choice of mediums, to pursue his ever-reaching aspirations.

David Archer, AUS   Based in Adelaide, South Australia. Conceptually, much of David’s work is concerned with social comment approached through humor, but always with the human element to the fore. Recent work has included several electric coin-operated fortune-telling machines, along with intriguing electric working models, such as “George” the mechanical drinking monkey.

Pat Keck, US  Another artist who's been perfecting her craft for many years, Pat works stark figures in wood and then has them set in motion. Striking in appearance, Pat's figures seem to inhabit a strange detached world of their own. She is based in Massachusetts, and has been known to cut her own trees down to supply her needs for large sections of wood.

Nemo Gould, USA Working out of his studio in Oakland, CA, Nemo uses select found objects to create his movable sculptures. His style is unmistakably shiny and polished, as his choice of materials is usually aluminum or steel. He also loves to include found motors, select lighting, mechanical devices, and other bits of gadgetry.

I will have pieces in the show too.

This showcase - the collected works of this amazing group of talented artists, in one location, at one time - is something that has not happened before in the US. It's going to be amazing to see all the pieces together - we will exhibiting about 20 all together. If you're anywhere near San Francisco, or can get there, you'll want to check out this show.

Thanks for looking,


Sunday, January 24, 2016

"The Seeker" - A Gothic Hot Rod - 2016

Heading into 2016, I began to think how I could make my work a little more edgier. I've mentioned this once or twice before on this blog, so it's not really a new idea for me. It's the way my brain works - things have to stew a while. 

In thinking about a new cast of characters, I researched a bit, but mostly relied on my life-long memories, as I often do. Things began to pop into my head - The Munsters, The Addams Family, Big Daddy Roth and Rat Fink. Hot rods, drag strips, and seedy hangouts permeated. Since I'd done very few vehicles in the past, and had never done a car piece..... I wanted to do a hot rod! How fun and interesting I thought this idea was - I could make a vehicle with little attention to how an actual car was made up. The sky's the limit!  I like when the sky's the limit - it lets me dream. 

Believe it or not, the whole concept for the hot rod came from a small jewelry "cabinet" I found at a thrift shop years ago. I had two of them at one time. One became the basis for my piano piece, "Crescendo", so I still had one floating around my studio. It was already black and a bit gothic looking, and I thought, "That would make a great seat for a hot rod".

This is how I came up with "The Seeker". The final piece measures 21" x 12" x 20", and is Currently Available for $13,600. It is now showing at Red Truck Gallery, in New Orleans, LA.

The images.

I really love how this piece turned out. After almost 200 hours of hand-building, retrofitting found objects, and tweaking every last inch, it surpassed my high hopes - the hopes I have for every piece I make.

The colors, the figure, the engine, the passenger compartment, the wheels, even the base; I thought all turned out very good.

A little closer shot. The 3 lines going down to the base are the 3 'strings' that control the motion of the figure.

As you can tell, the figure turns his head. There's a small lever in his chest, that moves when the 'string' is pulled, and a small spring that moves it back when it's released.

Since his body is on an angle, his head and neck are on an angle. This makes for a much more dynamic head movement.

A side view. (BTW this piece looks good from every angle.) One of the most challenging parts of his movement was his left hand. I wanted to make him steering the wheel. (In actuality, the wheel moves his hand.) The position of the wheel, the position of his arm, and the constraints of the 'cockpit', all made the movement a bit limited. Also, he had to have a complex 2-way joint at his wrist. It allowed his hand to flex in one direction, but also, twist as the wheel turned.

A straight-on shot. 

A shot of the rear of the hot rod. The back tires are 6" x 1 3/4". And I love the little oval window in the back.

The front end. 
All the components were mounted on a half inch piece of wood, and all the details had to be just right. The bumper is made from a nonfunctioning hole punch that my wife was getting rid of. The 'hood ornament' is some sort of piece off a musical instrument, maybe a drum? 
After an exhausting search for the perfect vintage front tires, I went to a local hobby store and bought these rubber ones. (I pretty much never buy new pieces for my artwork - I like vintage.) I disguised them with custom hub caps, (I think one of them is from a tambourine?) The 'suspension' was a bit of a challenge - to make sure everything was straight and square.

One of the first things I thought about when I decided to make a hot rod, was that the engine had to be HUGE, and powerful looking. I was so excited about how awesome this engine might look, it was the first component I made - and finished.

I had to have something back here, and I liked this little rack I had. I cut it down a bit, and added two snuff tins to it.

The build. (December '15 - January '16)

This humble jewelry cabinet was the initial inspiration, though it was way too wide for a passenger compartment, so I started by cutting an inch or so out of the center.

Here I'm cold-bending the 8 'must have' over-sized exhaust pipes. They're made from pliable copper pipe I had laying around in the studio. This method was primitive, but it worked pretty well.

The results - 8 pretty good exhaust pipes. I used the 'spring inside the tube' method to keep the pipes from collapsing. It worked relatively well, except it destroyed the springs as I pulled them out. Good thing I had extras.

Here I'm testing the look of the pipes on the engine block. "Yep, this is going to work."

Adding detail to the engine block - these gimp tacks given to me by a fellow artist. I love them.

Since copper exhaust pipes would be all wrong, I had to find a way to 'chrome' them. Paint might have worked, but would have been kind of fake looking. I wanted a real metal look. Then I remembered that when you wiped hot solder off a copper pipe, it looked pretty shiny. I did a test on an extra piece of pipe, and it looked great. It took a while, and multiple tries, but I finally got the finish to be smooth and shiny. 
Okay, so I got an engine, and the basic carriage shape. Now how the heck am I going to fit in one of my long-legged characters? Luckily, I had this articulated figure from when I was making shadowbox pieces, so he made a nice stand-in. I had to shorten the legs and arms a bit, but it helped me get his body positioned correctly.

Next to figure out an appropriate carriage. This fancy tin has been in my collection for a while; I don't remember where I got it, but I thought it would be perfect for my gothic hot rod - it is.

Once I knew how big the figure needed to be, I went ahead and made it from basswood. Here you see the metal rod that will hold his head, and one of the two bearings that will insure it moves smoothly from side to side.

After cutting the tin down, I had to figure out how to make a 'dashboard' for the wheel. Here I'm figuring out where the wheel is going to be.

I made the dash out of the leftover pieces of tin. Here I'm preparing to cut the hole for the area where the mechanism goes through to the wheel.

Everything is soldered together - no glue. The tin is nailed to the U-shaped piece of wood.

The two hands - they're very similar, but will function very differently.

Testing out the action of the shifter.

A view of the wheel. Now on to the challenge of how it'll integrate with his left hand. Hint- I had to cut the wheel to get his hand on it.

The left hand on the wheel. I had to paint and age the hand before I put them together.

A view into the cockpit - showing the mechanisms that will move the shifter, and the steering wheel.

The finished figure; painted and ready to be dressed.

Turning the back wheels. They're made from 3 layers of MDF. I've never used this stuff in any of my pieces before, but for some reason, I had some laying around the shop. It seemed to be the perfect solution for the back wheels. I later sealed them with sanding sealer.

Two wheels done. I made hubs out of two brass wheels I had, and added two small toy tin dinner plates (I think), to make them look more hot rod-like.

The inner and outer hub caps - patinated down with a brass darkening solution. All the shiny metal on this piece got a good dousing of this wonder-stuff. And then a coat of Johnson's Paste Wax - another shop favorite.

Here I'm establishing the final position for the vehicle, and determining the location for the 4 mounting holes.

His head - sculpted from polymer clay - painted, aged, and given a nice coat of paste wax. Somewhat modeled after Vincent Price, but also others.

Originally I wanted more of an angry grimace, but I was pretty happy with the results.

The final shape of the 3 cams. I thought they were pretty interesting.

An image of the final mechanism; hidden in the base. One cam and lever for each movement - two arms, and his head. All precision work that no one will ever see, but will (hopefully) run trouble-free for years to come.

I think this is one of my best pieces to date - so proud of this one.

Thanks for looking!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yes, I'm Obsessive - An Introspection

I've been thinking a lot about my work lately. Maybe it's because of my recent apprentice-teaching duties where I had to verbalize all my creative thoughts and decisions; who knows? But something I've never pointed out before - and I think it's a significant part of every piece I make - is my obsession over my surfaces. I love a buttery-smooth surface.

I think this penchant of perfectly smooth surfaces first developed during the 'Materials and Processes' classes I took back in my days studying Industrial Design. My M&P professor would obsess over a smooth, perfect surface. He knew if he closed his eyes, and inspected it with his fingers, he could tell if a student put the time and energy into giving the prototype, or model, a perfect surface. I try to create that same experience. I love the smoothness of a painted surface after a good measure of fine sanding. Also, a good coat of Johnson's Paste Wax is the perfect finish, and probably adds to the buttery-ness.

I also love texture. And I love when multiple textures show up on the surface of a piece. Now I'm not talking about a tactile texture - I mean textures that results from the combination of.... the grain of the wood, the application of the paint, and the texture created by the wash of aging liquid, (which usually runs down into every minute crevice). After I obsessively sand over all of this, what results is an unpredictable, and most often, a beautiful, dynamic surface. A surface that looks textured but is actually very smooth.

Here's an example from my piece, "Au Contraire". This is the back of the elephant, showing all the rasp marks, sanding marks, and paint and age variation. And yet with all this going on - and after it was all sanded - what results is a smooth, touchable surface. Love.

Here's a shot of the floor and the shoes of my piece, "Wasted & Wounded". The floor has added texture because I (roughly) went over it with a hand plane to level out the surface. The plane added a lot great surface marks to the wood. After painting and aging, this was all smoothed out with lots of sanding, and finished with a coat of wax - hand rubbed to perfection.

Even on my oddball creations like this memory jug, I try to create a very touchable surface. This makes sense here because everything is done with one's fingers. Smoothing things out is a big part of the process.

Sadly, our phones and computer screens can not really convey the smoothness of these surfaces. People usually understand this obsession better once they've handled one of my pieces. Not that I want people handling my pieces - but it just goes to show the level of finish I put into every piece.

Here I am finely sanding the surface of a wall on a recent commission.....

And of course, this obsession spills over to all of my work - on the surfaces of my polymer clay heads, and on any mechanical parts, (cams, followers, levers, axles, etc. etc.) that have to be perfect.

The obsession continues.........

Thanks for looking, and happy sanding!


Monday, November 9, 2015

2016 Calendars are now out!

I'm happy to be able to offer these calendars again this year. (For many years in the past, I haven't found the time it takes to put one together) This second year, things were a bit easier, and it only took 3 days to get it ready for printing. The 2016 calendar contains 8 new high quality photographs of my new automata pieces created since last year's calendar - and 4 of my favorite images from last year.

This is definitely a unique calendar & makes a perfect gift for any fan of Automata, Wood Sculpture, Art Sculpture, and the Handmade Art world.

This is a Limited Edition Calendar using high quality printing, and includes my artist signature..... so get yours today - last year's edition sold out quickly.

Available here on my Etsy site for $30. Now $25 USD. Free shipping to US. Shipping worldwide.

Here are a few images for this year's calendar.

Thanks for looking!