For decades the scrap yard has been a major source of raw material and inspiration. I go a couple of times a week, and I usually arrive with a shopping list in mind: a specific part for a machine I’m building or a particular type of metal I need for a sculpture I’m making. At the same time I try to be aware of what I’m not looking for. I’ve learned that materials that I might initially deem undesirable can actually be worth trying, so I occasionally pick up something to test in the studio. Once in a while something has unexpected potential and can influence what I make as well as how I make it.
Over time I’ve learned that the scrap yard is also a great meter for what’s going on in the world, both economically and socially. When I first started going to the Asheville scrap yard in the late 90s, there was a lot of industrial waste: drops from manufacturing, machinery from the dying textile industry, etc. The building boom of the early 2000s brought a great deal of structural steel. Then, almost over night, the influx of structural steel slowed to a trickle, but the demand for recycled steel remained high. Today the yard is mostly filled with consumer castoffs, especially appliances. As the consumer demand for cheaper products increases, the quality of the products decreases, as does the life span of the goods. The efficiency of recycling must increase to meet the volume.
“The White Series” is the direct result of my regular visits to the scrap yard. At first, I started dragging washing machines back to my studio because there were just so many of them, and the material interested me. I developed a quick process for stripping the metal from the machines, and then started forming the metal in my hydraulic press to experiment with form. I liked the way the metal crumpled under the pressure of the press; it reminded me of paper. I started thinking about how we tend to buy things with little thought of the future. We can buy appliances and electronics so cheaply that when they break, we toss them and go get new ones. It is like writing on a piece of paper, changing your mind, wadding it up, tossing it away, and starting again. This flippant gesture became the subject of Wads. I began making more and more of the crumpled forms letting them collect in my studio the way crumpled paper collects around a trash bin or the washing machines were collecting in the scrap yard. Then I began to compose them. The final composition, Cycle, became a way to exaggerate the idea of “tossing away” and to demonstrate the precariousness of this act. In the end there was a satisfying moment in the process when the castoffs became commentary.
White Ripple was formed by passing flat sheets of washing machine skins through my hydraulic press. Though minimal in feel, White Ripple is actually an assemblage of twenty cold-formed plates. To create the sculpture, a press die was custom-designed and constructed to form a sine wave. The die was then fit into a one-hundred-ton hydraulic press. Each plate (beginning as a flat sheet) was passed through the press at progressively deeper settings until the form of the sine wave was echoed in its surface. The resulting form is that of an undulating sheet of fabric or the recently disturbed surface of water. There is an implied movement and gentle rhythm in the piece, which belies its actual hardness and overall mass.
Tessellation No. 1 is a concept using two simple curved forms, a spherical shape and a toric, or saddle shape. By alternating these two shapes as well as flipping them alternately, convex to concave, they appear to move collectively, like a wave through space. Continuing this pattern with the washing machine skins, the form would remain in a singular plane. Repeating one of the shapes turns the sculpture 90°. In the case of Tessellation No. 1, the form turns back on itself 180° horizontally, reconnecting to itself at another 180º turn, all the while repeating the alternating pattern vertically, reminiscent of Brancusi’s endless column.
View White Series Gallery