Q: “How do you make these? Is that ‘real’ rust?”
RGB: Yes. It’s real rust.
I encourage it with all sorts of processes (scraping, scratching, grinding, etc.) as well as natural and artificial substances. For example, I might use muriatic acid on one area and then rub over that with a grapefruit (from the tree by my studio). This will encourage one type and/or color of rust. I also remove or reduce rust with everything from a grinder to a pencil eraser to electrical current. Whatever it takes, and usually over and over.
Q: “How do you fold the “crease pattern” pieces?”
All folds are made with elbow grease, by hand and by foot and with simple tools. It’s as crude as you can image. Sheet metal can become extremely hot from the daytime sun, and large sheets are very sharp along the edges and corners and it becomes very “springy” when you try and fold it. To avoid burns and to try and guard against severing a limb, I wear heavy leather gloves and, if I’m not too impatient, thick pants and a coat. Every single time, there’s a part of the process that prompts ghoulish visions of major injury and meditations centered on “what is the point of art?” “is this art worth risking a major injury?” “why me, why this?”
I don’t use a brake because those create very “clean” straight folds that are not my aesthetic. Once I’ve made several folds so that the metal is now multiple layers “thick,” I often will need to use clamps and 2×4’s to get enough leverage to start another fold. Once a fold is underway, I then will stomp and pound it to get it tighter, followed by driving back and forth over it with our truck.
Even harder than folding is unfolding. Again, it just requires hard work.
Q: “Your work has been characterized as ‘mystical’ or ‘ritual art.’ Why? I don’t see any mystical figures or symbols.”
I was asked by a potential patron – a neo-Buddhist – if I had any pieces with a heart image or a lotus flower.
The mystical or ritual nature of my work is not usually on the surface. It’s infused into the marrow of the piece. A piece that is “about” loving kindness won’t have a big red heart on it. Instead, the piece might have been made while meditating on kindness, using tools or materials gifted to me and for which I am grateful, and heated red-hot in a fire pit along with notes of kind acts done and vows to do more.
Most pieces, however, don’t have a singular intention. Instead, the process of making it is rooted in a set of actions that instill the work with earthy energy and deep time. Water gathered from streams and beaches and rain storms is used to rust pieces. A piece might be buried in the woods on a full moon or eclipse and left there until another cosmic event occurs, at which point it is retrieved. Metal is sunken in remote rivers and left for months, before being fished out and dried in the sun along the river bank. Or, hidden in the Sierras on the Autumnal equinox and allowed to rust, abraid, and oxidize under the winter snow. Or, set out under the first delicate Spring rain, or thunderstorm. All of this permeates the piece and characterizes the surface, but it’s usually not obvious nor given away by the surface imagery.
Q: “What kind of care do your Rust Art pieces require?”
RGB: About the same as a nice oil painting.
Most of the images must be kept indoors in a relatively arid environment (i.e., not in your bathroom). On some pieces, portions are “sealed” and other areas are left untreated. This encourages subtle changes over time and is part of the art.
Just like oil paintings, these should not be touched with bare hands. The sweat and the oil on your fingers is actually corrosive. If a piece is unsealed, touching it can change the rust that is already on the piece or start rust on any bare steel. When properly hung, these pieces are as rugged and long-lasting as any oil painting.
Q: “How long does it take to make one of your Rust Art pieces?”
RGB: I have created my own techniques for encouraging rust and I’m continuously researching and experimenting with ways to speed up and control corrosion and patination. Some of these techniques can produce changes right before your eyes. I go through phases where I do lots of this sort of experimentation.
Most pieces, however, take several years to get the sort of rust that I like and to develop an honest character. I have several that I have been working on (and off) for over five years. One reason I enjoy rust art is that more than my will is involved. Rust has its own say in the matter. Normally, it’s a collaboration, but sometimes there are also moments of fierce battle.
Q: “How do I hang the large heavy pieces?”
Hanging the pieces is easy. I used to hunt around for a stud, but that is a hassle and the stud is often off-center from where I want the piece to hang. So, the easiest thing to use is a simple heavy-duty dry wall hook. These sell for about $5 and can hold up to 200 pounds. You just drill or punch a 1/4″ hole through the drywall (make sure no stud is behind). Then just push in the hook, tap in three nails, and done. I have used these for at least 5 years now and never had any problem.
Q: “Do you make pieces on commission?”
RGB: Yes. But, I’ve only done that once. I might do it again, but you have to be okay with the fact that rust does its own thing.
The majority of pieces start out with some intention and end up quite different because the rust, itself, makes demands. For example, I’m a Believer began as a picture of a beautiful woman, but as it rusted, it turned into something very different. It’s beautiful in its own way, but if it was a commissioned portrait, you might not be happy.
Q: Where is your “artist statement?”
RGB: I find 99% of those disturbing. Still, as a good citizen I have an ongoing archive of these things appended below.
Other questions? Email me and I will post answers here.
Artist Statements – In alternative & additive:
March-April 2019 – MAK Show
All of my work uses iron as a major component.
By mass, iron is the most common element on earth. It’s the coating on the outside “crust” of the earth and penetrates to the very center of our planet.
The iron at the center of the earth, is as hot as the surface of the sun (10,800 degrees Fahrenheit).
When iron is exposed to oxygen and a bit of moisture, as it is here on earth, it physically converts to rust.
Given enough time, ALL iron on earth will convert to rust and completely disintegrate.
My work with rust has evolved from trying to create figurative images by generating and controlling rust, to a much more ritualistic process where metal is
repeatedly exposed to various extremes from freezing rivers to red-hot fire pits,
folded, flung, distressed,
and delicately polished.
The process recapitulates the rise and fall of industrial civilization as told through the long now of human handiwork.
March-April 2019 – MAK Show
Ritual Rust. Kicked, Cursed.
Heavy Sheet Steel, Etched
With Electricity And Chemicals.
Scrapped, Scraped, Sanded, Abraded,
Metal Set To Rust. Pounded,
Dented, Straightened, Bent, Washed.
Metal Subjected To Salt. Ocean
And Mineral. Moldy Oranges
And Grapefruits, Household
Solvents, Chemicals Used In
Aircraft, Boats And Trains.
Metal Cut And Folded.
Driven Over By Trucks And Trains.
Scorched In Remote Fire Pits,
Soaked In High Sierra Rivers,
Sunken In Lake Bottoms,
Buried In Dirt And Sand.
Hard Work. Over Years.
Whatever It Takes.
I use primitive, industrial & experimental techniques to make metal rust, oxidize & corrode in interesting patterns. Examples? Sheet steel rubbed with hand-split oranges & grapefruits, dribbled with red wines, scraped with knife-cut potatoes, olives, pink pearl erasers, power tools, industrial acids & electrical current. A process designed to distress & de-stress.
I was born in Alaska, surrounded by utilitarian structures & mystical belief systems. Rust was an ever-present backdrop, a green screen for my early imagination.
As a youngster, I spent formative years in and around Boys Town – the epicenter of the US of A, a hardened nuclear target & buttered bread-basket. It was a real village & a real prison, all in one. You should visit. As a teenager, I was in Omaha, pirate-broadcasting & monitoring the shortwave spectrum for the bicentennial. If you received my QSL card, I’d love to hear from you.
Today, I live in the prairie lands of California.