Behind the Torch – Part 2

ART EVOLUTION

In Part 1, I took you through my first weld and what sparked a new passion within me.

Being called an “artist” didn’t always appeal to me, and that was a huge mental block. There was a part of me that felt fraudulent. I felt comfortable as a millwright, a welder or a tradesman, but not as an artist. I created more and more sculptures just as an excuse to weld, not as the fruit of my imagination. Despite this mindset, I grew as an artist, just not as quickly as I should have, or could have. Eventually, I hit a wall, and no longer did it feel good when I told myself “but you sold it for $$” or “yeah, but those welds look dope” or “its fine, considering you did it in 3 hours!” Part of the next step was prioritizing the sculptures ahead of the welds; I had been adding superfluous stuff to pieces as an excuse to drop a pretty weld, not because the sculpture needed it. That stopped. Another part was to stop looking at the clock, to slow down, even to let a piece sit for a night or two when I thought it was done. The last part was just accepting the idea that “I’m an artist.” It sounds simple, but it took me years to figure it out! Once I embraced that final bit, my confidence grew and the work evolved exponentially.

2010 saw me add driver/mechanic to the list of titles, as I started working for General Dynamics Land Systems in their prototype shop. It’s kind of cool to tell people I have a license to drive an M1 Abrams, which is basically 70 tons of firepower propelled by a jet engine, but most of the time, I’m fabricating prototype parts or ground-up future military vehicles. It’s a very weld-intensive gig. I’ve received mil-spec training and certifications in a multitude of processes and I get to weld on aluminum, armor, high hard, stainless, titanium and more. Through GDLS, I’ve traveled the country for work and even spent last summer repairing tanks in Iraq! It’s another job with crazy hours but I love what I do.

INSPIRATION & STYLE

Hot rods, muscle cars and motorcycles feed into a part of my mind that’s fascinated by the sound and the fury and the visceral appeal of slightly unhinged machines. My work is not about creating models or replicas; rather, I’m attempting to capture the thing’s soul, what makes it more than the sum of its parts, what makes it speak to me, and hopefully the collector. There’s no fun in spelling a piece out, my job is to give the viewer a new set of eyes through which to view a familiar thing. Too much detail is the enemy of art. My favorite pieces give the illusion of detail, when in reality the individual is filling in the blanks with their mind’s eye.

The trick is deciding things like what bits are essential, where to play with proportions or even how to shape the metal to give off the sensation of movement.

“Nines with Light”, a sculpture of the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT® Demon, is my most recent example. The car is in mid launch, front wheels off the ground, rear end squatting, and every part of the sculpture is tweaked and distorted by power, speed and the mythology surrounding the car itself.

Substance without style is boring. Obviously, substance is paramount, but a lot of people can do a thing well. Can you put your mark on it? Style in art, design and industry is expressed as language, and the most innovative among us attempt to forge their own distinct dialect. At some point, your work might be copied. If you build a strong enough style, however, the masses will know that those who come after you aren’t creating anything new, they’re simply speaking your language. Now that’s a legacy. My hope is to make art that transcends a certain time and genre; that when people look at it, they see my heart and soul and the influence it had both on my generation and those who followed.

 PAVING THE WAY

It feels as though in this day and age, if something happened before Instagram, it didn’t really happen. When I started Brown Dog Welding, there was no IG, and Facebook and the iPhone were in their infancy. The majority of metal artists had cheap websites, and the photography was typically subpar. I already had a vision for what I wanted my “brand” to look like, and how it needed to be styled to stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Part of that was going to be how I presented my sculptures via pictures.

I’m not a photographer per se; my technical knowledge of the craft is limited. What I do have is enough of an eye for composition and perspective to make an image visually appealing. It has been a learning process, and as much as my metalwork has evolved since 2008, the photography has as well. Sometimes, I think I get more questions and comments on that aspect of my work than I do on the welding.

Peering around the current landscape of welders and artists, I’d like to think the way I shoot my welds and my sculptures has been a positive influence on others and has inspired a certain “look.” And the act of shooting photos has helped my progress as a sculptor. When you create a 3-D piece, it can’t just look good from one angle. You have to be able to walk around it, look down on it, and it has to look “right” no matter how you view it. I realized that if I needed to get overly creative and careful with how I captured it with a camera, maybe it’s not that good. Now I look at my “works in progress” through a different eye.

Tomorrow, I will round out this series talking about my love of welding, driving and coming out on the other end stronger and more determined than ever.

 

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