Working in wire was a simple enough idea and the necessary contrast that I needed for my Bay Area solo show at the end of 2013 at the Transmission Gallery in Oakland, Ca. I needed an extension to my monotypes to contrast and round out the show.
My dad was a civil engineer for the Southern California Edison Company and one of my many post high school labor jobs was starting a masonry business with a friend of mine. We got neighborhood jobs doing used brick decks and short retaining walls, simple homeowner stuff that didn't require any kind of engineering. One day we were asked if we could do a suspended concrete deck off of a pool set on a steep hillside in Glendale Ca and I told my partner, "Lets do it, my dad is an engineer and he can design the deck with blueprints and everything". I went to the client and talked him into giving us the job and he agreed after I told him that his deck was going to be designed by an engineer and he wasn't going to be charged for the engineering work.
So I am sitting with my dad in his home office and I give him the scale, the measurements and the elevation of the hill and he sat there and designed the concrete deck and the pump house that was going to be under it with his T-Square and little drawing board. He designed all of the plywood forms that we needed to build and explained to me why rebar sits at certain levels in the concrete and how to criss cross it for strength and how to tie it all together with steel wire. I sat there and nodded my head and said that I understood and took off with the plans.
My friend and I did build the deck for this guy and my favorite part was working with the rebar. Cutting it, bending it and tying it all together with tie wire. I looked at the rebar work that i had done and thought, "That is really cool looking". The next day we hired a concrete pumper and a truck full of concrete and we filled that entire suspended deck with concrete and all I could think was, "Dad, you better be right on the plywood forms". It was really frightening but the forms held and we massaged and scored the concrete into a perfect deck.
We didn't take out any permits on the job so the homeowner videotaped us the entire time asking questions about why we were doing this and that and he kept asking very loudly, "Your dad is an engineer and he designed this deck, correct?". At the end of that day I gave the client the working drawings and a week later after we pulled the forms the guy tried to burn two 20 year olds on the payment, it didn't work. Another story...
35 years after that experience I am now building figures and faces out of that same steel tie wire. Below are some of the projects and pieces that I have created in the medium.
This was my first wire piece, I hacked it out as an experiment to see if the medium had any potential for me. It is based around a wire head that I made years ago that is displayed in our livingroom. It is a little rough using a single wire strand. The day that I made it I posted it on Facebook and folks really liked it. I am a fan of crowdsourcing and the instantaneous interest was a green light.
Couple#253 | Annealed Wire | 18" x 23" x 4" | 2013 | sold
After the Facebook greenlight I went into an inspired frenzy making a bunch of pieces. The work that I was making was for my solo show and the opening was in a few weeks. I couldn't sell any of the pieces directly but I landed this commission that week and made it during that week, you gotta keep everybody happy. This is when I started mechanically braiding the wire to get heavier lines. I was looking for heavier lines and had no idea that the braided wire made contouring that much easier and the result, elegant.
Couple #275 | Braided Annealed Wire | 17" x 39" x 8" | 2013 | Private Commission
It was really fun showing these new wire works that were so much fun to make. Big thanks out to all of our friends who came out in the rain for my first Bay Area show.
Couple #260 | Braided Annealed Wire | 17" x 44" x 10" | 2013 | In the collection of Adam McCauley and Cynthia Wigginton
Even with my new wire sculptures my show wasn't carrying the weight that it needed. My wife and artist Gwyn Stramler who doesn't beat around the bush said, "You need a big painting to anchor the show". This is the kind of advice that you don't want to hear so close to delivering a show but ok, you need to hear it. I made this painting and with such little time my only choice was to take an earlier painting and enlarge it to 4 feet square and paint it out. I took out the time that it would have taken me to design a large piece and replaced that with pure paint labor. It was a nice anchor piece for the show and a good call.
The family #275 | Oil on Birch Panel | 48" x 48" | 2013 | Available
The week after the opening of my show I had sent out a newsletter talking about my new work and one of my collectors wrote me back and asked, "Do you think that your new wire stuff could work as a large scale installation in an executive apartment?" . This was the email that you want to get. The next day I was at his house trying to sell him on my plan for two 9' figures embraced and suspended by aircraft cables from a 24' vaulted ceiling. My working drawings were going to be crucial in selling the concept so I spent a lot of time on them and also printed them out on graph paper to show him how I would scale the work up. Knowing that the piece was going to be so high from view I took some time to mechanically braid 3,4 and 5 strands of steel wire for examples of different line weight that I could use on the piece so portions of the contours could pop against lighter linework.
I took the commission and during the construction timing was not so hot for me and I needed to move my studio. I took the torsos to the client site that was still an unfinished apartment and locked them into a giant closet. Since I hadn't finished the heads I made maquettes for the general shapes of the heads, I would then finish them in my new studio. Working on the heads without the torsos was really difficult and it added a lot of artistic doubt and extra stress even with my cardboard templates.
Here are my head sculptures, I left lots of neck so I could attach them to their bodies and adjust the neck lenghts. My client had a sense of humor and he called me one day and said, "Did you read about the mafia hit that happened at the building?", I say, "No!" and he says, "Yeah, cops found two decapitated torsos in a closet, by the way, when are you going to finish these creatures?". He kept calling them creatures until I attached the heads. He was really funny and made the entire process from start to finish a good experience.
A few weeks after the closing of my show Visit California, the tourism board invited Travel Channel host Kevin Cullen, "The Motorhead Traveler" to come and do a motoring/food and art program in Northern California. On this episode "The Motorhead Traveler" experiences the AUDI R8 racing school at Sonoma Raceway and Alice Waters cooking school, "Kitchen on Fire" in Berkeley and Visit Oakland put a call out to all of the galleries for art proposals and we landed it. In 7 hours I showed Kevin how to mechanically braid steel wire and we built his self portrait together and even put a little motor in his head. This episode should be out in a few months on American Real-Adventure Television on MavTV, Travellandscape in Canada, Nuvolari.tv in Italy and FirstHDTV and Hightv.tv in 3D in Russia and China.
I was really pleased to hear that this piece has been selected by the Crocker art museum to be included in their 2014 art auction. Thank you, Crocker!
Couple #276 | Braided Annealed Wire | 17" x 38" x 8" | 2013
This work has now come full circle with a big thanks to Smithsonian Magazine for commissioning my first wire sculpture assemblage as an Illustration for an interesting article on PTSD and memory. Shown is a picture of Michael Llewellyn shooting the final artwork and a small cropped section of the art.
Braided Annealed Wire, Monotypes with painted background | 2014