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1/11/21

NC-3: A Magnetically Assembled Machined Metal Sculpture



I have another fun little sculpture to share with all of you. This one is inspired by my most recent major work, which itself was inspired by a number of much older sculptures. The whole thing is kind of circular in a satisfying way to me. 

This work happened because I wanted to give weight to a simple phenomenon that I have encountered many times during my career. It is easy to overlook, but common enough that I have heard numerous artists mention it also. I suspect what I am referring to is actually quite universal.
 

What I am talking about is this; often when I am executing a design, I will reach a point in the work that, while unfinished from the standpoint of my original plan, the work seems interesting or complete as it is. I will sometimes look at a half assembled sculpture or a solitary part and think “this could be a sculpture all by itself”. This happens with some frequency, and it happened yet again while I was assembling my last sculpture. I decided that this would be the time I latch onto the moment, and make a small sculpture with that it in mind.

Of course I am being dramatic, but I think it is important to exaggerate the little things. However one is able to identify and commit to ideas is worth elevating just a bit. When I was a younger artist, I was often dismissive of the little quirks of mind that yielded the best ideas. There are no doubt others in my shoes and I relish taking small luxuries with my work. My smaller works are expressly intended to be a fun way to approach some of the trends I see in the fine art world, the machinist world, and my own muddled head.


This work incorporates two dozen magnets to hold the assembly together and their use is another thing that I have given an unusual amount of thought to. Magnets are inherently novel, and while novelty is a tool many artists use, it is one that should be handled with care because it wears off ver fast.




There have been many novel art fads that have come and gone, and the work that outlasts them is work that has more going for it than what is in vogue (fidget spinners anyone). I think it is perfectly appropriate to make work that addresses a trend, but I always try to do so within a framework that takes a much longer view of whatever it is. 



So if I am going to use magnets, I just want to be sure I have sufficient justification for doing so other than the fact that, no matter how much you understand them, magnets still always seem to be somehow magical. 



Many of you will be familiar with some form of (currently popular) magnetic desk toy, rightly or wrongly this work will no doubt fall into this category for some. Now I don’t really mind how people view my work, but as most of you know, I personally do not see these pieces as toys or gadgets, I see them as experiments in sculpture (fine art or otherwise). 

Hopefully this is seen by most as some combination of commentary and appropriation. 



With that all said, my choice to use magnets in this case was actually a simple one. This work is a scaled down version of a larger concept that utilizes a mechanical turnbuckle system. Magnets provide a perfect analogy for the forces that system creates, only by a different means. 


If you are unfamiliar a turnbuckle, it is a piece of hardware typically used to adjust tension in a cable or chain. It has three primary components: a body, a right-hand threaded end fitting, and a left-hand threaded end fitting. When you turn the body, the two threaded ends are pulled together or pushed apart equally. 

With the larger works, alternating spheres had either right-hand or left-hand threads to allow the turnbuckle bolt in the center gears to tighten those elements together. It was the engineering framework for the entire piece.



For this much smaller work, a turnbuckles system was both too complex, and overkill from a fastening standpoint. So instead, this work uses magnets to attract the spheres and uses alternating magnetic poles of attraction to similar effect.

On the configuration above, the brass spheres have north facing magnets, and the Stainless spheres have south facing magnets. Only opposite spheres will attract each other and because they are at right angles to each other, they self aline quite nicely.

This material combination demonstrates that functionality perfectly. Because of this, I am calling this particular color combo  "Polar Logical" 


There is an elegance to this smaller work that the larger ones lack, this piece derives a lot of complexity from only two unique machined parts (excluding the magnets that is). This is precisely what I aim to do in all of my work, set up a logical system that builds and amplifies itself to create complexity from a relatively small number of constraints and visual elements. Rarely does it work quite this well. 


Given the interest this piece has already attracted, I am going to be offering it as a pre-order edition. I will send out a second post this coming Wednesday Jan 13th with the sign up form and all of the details of the sale. I have a lot of details to work out still, but let's say 11 AM EST. 

I will likely offer the four varieties above; stainless/brass, brass/stainless, polar logical, and full stainless steel.  

As always, questions and comments are welcome. 

12/5/20

How do you engineer a work of Fine Art?


How do you engineer a work of Fine Art?

-Think about what you want to make.

-Think about how you are going to make it. -Consider how the processes and tools you might use to execute your idea can inform and change it in a conceptual or aesthetically meaningful way.

-Adjust your concept or design accordingly.

-Repeat this process until your idea and it’s process considerations reach an equilibrium, a state where each fully complements and reinforces the other without dissonance or significant compromise.

-Now go make it. 

Video notes: I did my best with this process video. Designing, engineering, and fabricating a work this complex is quite a feat in itself, being my own videographer and editor on top of that was sometimes a stretch. I occasionally missed a step, got a poor shot, or the quality suffered in some way (hey, I am one person). There were times when ensuring that the fabrication process at hand was successful took priority over filming. This is especially true at the end when I was assembling the sculpture. I just needed to put all my energy into carefully assembling this thing without destroying months of work, and so I missed a lot of that process. All and all, I think it is still an enjoyable ride though. Thanks for watching.

11/24/20

Sculpture: OT 822233761411553612

New Work!

While all my sculpture releases feel special to me, this one feels almost momentous. It is my first attempt at using mixed materials in a major sculpture work, and in as much, it feels like it has opened the field a bit for me. 

The concept for this sculpture was well over a decade in the making, with active development running about two years from rough sketch to completion.


This work incorporates many elements from my most recent wood based experiments, the Woody Worry-stones, the BWD, and SPG projects. 

While free standing works on their own, these forerunner projects were serving double duty as color and material trials, and helped me refine a number of machining techniques that paved the way for fabricating this much more elaborate composition.


There is plenty in this work that speaks to recent developments within my craft, but the design also marries them with a visual language I have been developing for much (much!) longer. If you dig through my catalogue, you will find references to works that stretch back well over a decade. In this way, I consider it a retrospective piece, one that shows the spectrum of where my work has been and where I think it is going.


While the thesis for some of my smaller editions can often be very specific explorations of a craft or novel concept (like knife making or Netsuke), these major works are typically broader attempts to bring together an entire body of hard won knowledge. So with that in mind, I won’t expound quite as much as I sometimes do. 




Technical notes:

The earliest drafts of this work were made with the intention that the entire piece would be made of various metals, as is typical. But once my comfort level with working Desert Ironwood increased, that quickly changed as the opportunity it presented is quite obvious. 


Once I made the decision to incorporate ironwood into the piece, the rest of the design fell into place quite naturally.

Everything that is except for the color palette, which I was fine tuning right up until the last minute. I even changed a color decision while some parts were underway in the anodizing tank!


The assembly of this work incorporates elements I have used in a number of past works. Most notably is a turnbuckle style fastening system that holds the main body elements together. It is one that I think speaks to the unique opportunities being a machinist can have for the creation of sculpture. The video above should explain a bit more.


Above is also an image with a soda can in it for scale. I was sure to include one this time, as it is one of the most common requests when I release a work.


Dimensions are roughly a 22” square.



The technical drawing for this piece is huge, over 77" across at full scale. 




As always, comments and questions are welcome.

10/13/20

It isn’t exactly mud and metal but let me explain: A collaboration with ceramicist Eric Moss


Today I wanted to share something that you might not know about me. I have been a metal sculptor for over two decades, but strangely enough, a very large proportion of the artists I follow happen to be people who primarily work in ceramics and clay (one of them, is Eric Moss). I can’t say why exactly, but while I live my creative life among metal, I am disproportionately drawn to pottery and ceramic sculpture. 

Maybe it's because I found I am allergic to dusty environments that my path took me into metal instead of clay. Either way, despite my vocation of choice, I have developed a great appreciation for the muddy arts. Given that knowledge, one might assume that a mud and metal collaboration with another artist was inevitable, and you would be right...sort of 


So while I would like to announce a collaboration between myself and fellow ceramic artist Eric Moss, the funny twist is that my contribution to this project will not actually be made of metal, it will be wood? Who would have thought? 

I should really let Eric speak for himself as he is the one doing the heavy lifting for this project. Below are his thoughts on the project. 


From Eric:


“I first encountered Chris’ extraordinary art in 2018 in the Instagram posts of one of his collectors, who also happened to be following my channel. He remarked on our similarity of appreciation in forms (and even then dreamed of a collaboration). The core of my practice then was raku firing ceramics, a low-tech, fast and brutal process with the end result left very much to the whim of the kiln gods rather than the artist – in my early years much of my output was lost to thermal shock breakages in the final moments after firing. Raku, I thought, might be too far removed from Chris’ precise, controlled and tight-tolerance work to consider a combined artwork?

Early in 2020, as Chris was preparing for release of his ‘worry stone’ meld of metal and wood, and in mutual appreciation of each other’s work, we agreed an artswap. Chris sent me a prototype worry stone in exchange for one of my two-part, wheel-thrown raku-fired ‘squid’. By 2020 I had already branched out into slipcasting my ‘waveform’ sculptures in porcelain tile form, driven by the need economically to make identical pieces for tessellating wall arrays. So, when Chris posted an image of a small collection of ‘overrun’ machined exotic wood ‘jewels’ from his project, and I mused how they might look presented in a ceramic mount, Chris sent a dozen over to me in the UK to “have a play”!



The initial impression of Chris’ worry stone was chrysalis-like with the grooved wood jewel appearing like the segmented underside of a beetle. So, I decided my ceramic mount might echo a beetle’s upper side ‘elytra’ (or wing cases). But, still occupied in ‘oloid’ and ‘waveform’ production, I first tried the jewels in both modified oloids and waveforms, each given a new recess to accommodate the jewel. These Prototypes #1, #2 and #3 had the feel of seeds with the jewel forming the germ part and Instagram posts of them were sparking interest and requests to acquire. Prototype #3 ‘waveforms’ in Parian have the added appeal of translucency as well as tactility.

My early experiments prompted Chris to offer to promote a possible collaborative edition, although he was still keen to see a prototype #4 of the ‘elytra’ that I’d first suggested. I set out to try to make these and to make the means to batch produce all four prototype themes should each/any garner enough interest for production? The modified oloids (Prototypes #1 & #2), with my primitive making methods, entailed so many hours of finessing that I elected to make them only for special commission. I am still investigating the technicalities of making the elytra in ceramic (developing a ‘slip injection process’ using plaster casts and kitchenalia) but present instead a divergence into pewter casting of the carved cuttlefish variant ‘elytra’ which I think works beautifully. I rediscovered cuttlefish casting in 2019 and was keen to incorporate it into my practice both in metal and ceramic. Lead-free Pewter is a pleasantly heavy (and easily cast) metal and it well defines the expressed laminae of carved cuttlefish in a sensuous, tactile form.“
E.M.



As you can read, Eric went in quite a few directions with this project, and really used it as an opportunity to explore and grow into a range of processes. I have enjoyed exchanging messages with him over the last couple months as developments unfolded.

The more I have learned about Eric's work, the more I see myself in it. His aesthetic instincts are quite complementary to my own, so it is fascinating to see my small wooden gems serve as a powerful catalyst for his work. To have something I designed and machined juxtaposed with such a diametrically different medium is an invaluable way to reflect on my own process and contrast the two.


My craft is inherently precise, and Erics is much more squishy, but they have more in common than one might think. Ceramic work actually fits perfectly into one of the themes I talk about quite often here on this blog.

Ceramics is one of the oldest industrial processes, And while it has taken many forms throughout history in many cultures, its transition to a distinct contemporary fine art studio medium exhibits similarities with others crafts that share a utilitarian and decorative tradition.


Like wood turning, glass making, and various kinds of metal work, it is a process whose primary function has (very slowly in this case) shifted from the utilitarian to artistic as technology has changed. While I am wholly unclear on the timeline, one might point to the transition away from manual ceramics production to industrial slip casting as the point where the modern studio ceramics movement was really able to take shape. 

Again and again, when we see industry turn away from skilled labor and toward technology, those cast off skills often find a new niche within the fine arts. As a sculptor working with technology, that story has always captivated me and it is a great point of intersection between what I do, and what Eric does. 

I think this project embodies all of that perfectly. 


So the next question might be "Can I own one?"

Of course. As you might have guessed, we are going to offer up this project as an edition. I will be making a range of hardwood inserts for Eric, and he will be lovingly crafting a home for each of them.

If you are a collector of my work, or Erics, and are interested in adding one of these wonderful artifacts to your collection, simply click the link below and everything you need to know should be there.  


Thank you.



I hope you enjoy this project as much as I do, and as always, comments and questions are always welcome. 


9/10/20

The SPG

 


Today I have another entry in my kinetic-art sculpture genre. This one combines the work I have been doing highlighting some of the traditional hardwoods that knife-makers use, with a decidedly more interactive object of my own.


There is a bit of a convergence going on in my work, with various threads beginning to overlap. And while my process has always been an incremental evolution, for a time I felt like I was pursuing different ends with my small kinetic works verses my larger stand alone sculpture. Elements from these small projects have begun creeping into everything I design, so there seems less and less point in differentiating between the various projects.

I am pretty sure this is a good thing, as the purpose for these small projects was always to widen the dialogue in my work and generate new ideas for sculpture. As long as I am moving forward and finding new creative ideas that fascinate me, life is good.


So with that said, let me introduce the “SPG”

Above we have works (going counter clockwise) with Amboyna Burl on Teal, Black Ash on Black, and Snakewood on Red. 

This work is an obvious next step from my Woody Worry-Stone project as it incorporates similar jewel like wooden inserts, but moves it firmly into the realm of kinetic art. There are more than a few knife making influences in this work, but the main inspiration comes from both my work on the MG series, and what are known as haptic coins


Both the MG series and haptic coins rely entirely on magnetic forces within the mechanism to hold the works together. This piece requires a much more robust construction and that technical requirement constrained the design in some interesting ways. I talk about this and a good bit more in the above video. 


This work has helped me think a bit more on this divide between my interactive and non interactive sculpture work. 

There is an interesting analogy that can be drawn between classical sculpture, which is traditionally to be viewed passively, and the contemporary art world which is often an interactive and participatory scene. 

That I have been bouncing between work that could be placed in each camp, passive and interactive, speaks to my desire to explore modern machine work in a holistic way. To frame machining as a fine art medium means doing so within a range of contexts. 


What started as an earnest traditional approach to fine art sculpture has branched out into an exploration of how we define craft, design, and even commercial manufacturing. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me, but it is a theme that is leading me down some fascinating roads and I am doing my very best to describe my humble journey.

So as always, thoughts and comments welcome. 


Note for collectors: 

I’d love the chance to make a variety of combinations of this thing, so it goes without saying that an edition will be in the offering. Let's set a date for a sign up sale. Say Tuesday September 15th at 11AM.


I will be offering a wide range of color choices for the aluminum anodizing, as well as a selection of hardwoods. The hardwoods will be limited by what I can source. Some woods are hard to get reliably and so supplies will be first come first serve. Signing up early is your best bet to get the pick you want. 


That said, the signup itself will be open for 3 days or so to give plenty of time to be thoughtful with your sign up and selection of colors and woods. 


The price for the work will be posted on the sign up as well. I know this bugs people but I try to keep commerce off publicly facing media.


7/20/20

The BWD edition complete



For something that started out as a cathartic and fun exercise, this project turned out to be surprisingly formative for me. While the finished works look fantastic, these wood-based sculptures continue to expanded the range of materials I employ while fundamentally reshaping the way I approach process and the idea of "fine-art".



Don't take this the wrong way, but sometimes after the completion of a sculpture, there is a brief moment that feels almost anticlimactic. It can take weeks and months of effort just to tease an idea out of my mind and put it to paper. once I have a workable idea, there are hundreds of additional hours of physical work to fabricate and bring it to fruition. While it is a largely enjoyable journey, it can be jarring once all that work is over and I am faced with a final result. I am often left with a vague uneasy feeling because realistically, how could any object, no matter how accomplished, ever live up to that level of effort? 


This phenomenon usually subsides quickly and I can see my work (more or less) for what it really is, but strangely (refreshingly) I did not experience any apprehension about what I had achieved at the end of this project. I think there are a number of reasons for this.


One reason was simply not knowing what the result would be. Completing each of these bread-loaf sized gems was a small revelation even for me.


Due in large part to the unknowns of wood grain and color interactions, I just could not accurately predict the final outcome of each work. I found myself constantly making last minute changes, swapping in different woods, and disposing of ones that did not make the cut. I changed my mind so often that each sculpture's final appearance was a pleasant and welcome surprise.


Working with wood has also been an exercise in embracing randomness. The uncertainty inherent to woodworking; not knowing if a given piece of material will crack, have a flaw, or behave in other strange ways has made the success of any given part feel less consequential, which in turns makes the work as a whole feel more fluid.


This change in process has taught me to better temper my expectations and give myself the time to reconcile the ideal I have in my mind, with the reality of what I've actually done. This, combined with decades of experience in my craft, has given me the discipline, patience, and the emotional tools to navigate projects with minimal trauma and maximum joy.


That is just one small (if emotional) facet of how this work unfolded, if you want more context on some of the conceptual underpinnings of this piece, My last post fleshed out more of this project, so please revisit that one if you need further context.


A Brief Process Note: As I continued to post videos of my modified offset turning processes for fabricating these larger works, I was amused to see comments that alternately accused me of being brilliant, brave, or "mentally deficient". 

I suppose if my approach elicits such a wide range of opinions, I must be pushing a boundary of some form or another. 

While a little unconventional, my processes choices did prove successful in the end. Perhaps that is all that really matters. 



Thanks for reading.
As always, comments and questions are welcome. 




6/30/20

Meteorite and special Woody Sculptures



I have never been very good at saving the best for last, so it is fortuitous that these special Worry-Stones were an unplanned extension of my project, as they are indeed “the best” and also, the very last of them. 


I have two different variations on my Woody project to share today (not to be confused with the larger works I am currently producing). Also, for those of you interested, there is also a chance here to maybe add one of these to your collection.



So let's start things off with the work that is by far the most unique of the bunch, the Meteorite Worry-Stone. The insert for this work is made out of a real piece of the Aletai-Armanty meteorite, which is an iron-nickel meteorite that, when etched, exhibits a fascinating crystalline structure that can be found nowhere else on earth.  



The original edition of Woody Worry-Stones were initially meant as a nod to some of the natural material combinations that knife makers most commonly utilize in their craft. I wanted to utilize those material trends for the purpose of sculpture. It was a fun concept that led to a very interesting edition of works and I learned a lot about a range of different hardwoods. But as it turns out, knife makers use such a wide spectrum of materials that by concentrating only on wood elements, I am barely even scratching the surface. 


So to round out the project and further emphasize my thesis, I decided a non-wood material that represents a more extreme example of the materials knife makers utilize was in order.


One of the requirements I set out at the beginning of this project was that the inserts be made of only natural materials, among the more exotic examples that fit that requirement were fossilized mammoth tusk and saber tooth, also slightly more common is Ancient Bog Oak (which is semi petrified wood). But the material that really stuck out was meteorites, and for more than just the sheer novelty of it.



Metal Meteorite is very distinct because it has what is called Widmanstatten pattern . For those unfamiliar, it is a pattern that is formed when alloys within the meteorite cool very slowly over millions of years. This incredibly slow cooling allows crystals of various elements within the meteorite to form over an extended period of time and grow very (very) large. Only rocks of extraterrestrial origin have this pattern and it is not possible to create them artificially. These crystal patterns can be revealed using an etching process, and are quite striking. While this pattern's existence has only been known for two centuries, there are other reasons that meteorites have been a prized material (among knife makers especially) for millennia.

Before humans had the technology to smelt iron ore into usable alloys, they were already making steel objects by finding the stuff lying around on the surface of the earth as rocks. Those rocks were almost certainly meteorites, as it was the only source of refined iron on the planet. Skilled bronze age artisans were some of the first to find ways to craft knives and many other objects with this strange and very strong material. Iron meteorite artifacts can be found as far back as the 14th century BC, most famously, a dagger found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun.


So yes, as a sculptural experiment that pivots around traditional knife making materials, this work certainly fits the bill. But step back a little further, and I think this work also embodies the bigger story I have been trying to tell about material progress and the ways that technologies always seem to trickle down into the arts. 


I have spent my entire career making art that demonstrates how industrial processes (ones that are not traditionally thought of as art mediums) can be a primary source of inspiration for the making of fine sculpture. How if we look back far enough, many of the tools and technologies we readily accept as artistic mediums actually got their start on the factory floor rather than in the art studio. And that it is only when we are able to scale these technologies for individual use that they become more accessible to artist.



That smelting iron is such a large and unwieldy process, it would almost guarantee that it's early use would not be put to artistic ends. That skilled craftsmen were finding the stuff lying around as meteorites and shaping it into ceremonial art objects long before they could even produce the material themselves is a fascinating chapter in the history of mans material progress. Finding a way to bring that story into my own work was a welcome adventure. 


Ok, with the meteorite out of the way, I also wanted to show off these very special Woody Worry-stones, which incorporate the use of a lot of different hardwoods not offered in the initial run.

The list of used materials includes Bacote, Box Elder Burl (dyed purple), Bubinga, Red Malle, Bloodwood, Rosewood, and of course, a couple of very choice pieces of Desert Iron Wood.


These were made in response to the wonderful outpouring of support I received following the release of the original Woody edition. There was an unprecedented gifting of exotic hardwoods that I just had not expected. It was exciting to get random, unsolicited packages containing blocks of material in the mail. Some came from complete strangers who just wanted to share their enthusiasm (and wood) for the project. Because of this, I just had to make a few extra pieces to show off some of my favorite hand picked pieces from my experiments with those special pieces of gifted wood.


Thank you all again for following along, and the many kind and constructive conversations along the way. 


As always, comments and questions are welcome.