Wed, Feb 26 2014 12:39
It seems February has been a very productive month, so here I am once again with another set of works. This time it is an edition of three small sculptures, a format which I am quite fond of, and one that has yielded a seemingly never ending stream of inspiration to this particular sculptor.
These are more or less 3"x3"x2" each, The bodies are solid stainless steel and the details are anodized aluminum in blue orange and red respectively..
I took a very minimal approach for a stand on these, they display very well when propped up just a little bit, so I made these little brass pieces with a divot in the tip. They sit perfectly under the little button detail on the back like so.
A shot for scale as usual
Much like my last piece, This design required me to make a special tool for tightening the little colored caps on the back of the pieces, It also served as an arbor for holding the center spherical shape for milling. I am assembling quite an interesting collection of these special little tools.
I am starting work on a companion set to this one, when I was developing this piece, it kind of split into two separate works so I decided to make both. The drawing will accompany that work so stay tuned for more in a few weeks.
Comments and questions welcome as always.
Fri, Feb 14 2014 10:21
First piece of the New Year. This one had me busy for over 11 weeks and it feels good to have it finished and ready to share.
Dimensions on the new work are 23.5"H x24"L x12"D. It is machined entirely out of Aluminum and Stainless steel and weighs in just shy of 58 pounds. Blue print images, Process images and a shot for scale are toward the bottom.
I am going to be breaking with my normal posting format to try something new. I will be keeping this blog a bit more minimal as far as my writing goes, at least for now. I just want to let the images and the work do more of the talking for a while. Obviously I would still love to hear your thoughts and talk to anyone who has questions one on one, but I felt my write ups were getting a bit too monotonous for my taste and I think simple is more desirable sometimes. (but feel free to email me anytime!)
(More images after the jump)
OK, one little thing I'd like to add to this post ( it seems I can't help myself ), it is about this image. To avoid using easily recognizable bolts and fasteners to assemble my works, I have been designing various specialized fasteners for my pieces that require unique little hand tools to tighten them. For this piece, I made several dozen fasteners for the large body flanges (or what ever you want to call them) that were tightened with this special little brass wrench I made. It was needed to grip the little divots in the bolt (beside it in the image) without marring it. It isn't anything super fancy, but it worked very well and these little hand tools always seem fascinating to me once the piece is done. In the past,( like my last edition) I have incorporate the stands of my works or other parts to serve as tools or tightening devices, but for stand alone tools like this one, It always feels like sort of a shame not to have any other purpose for them once the work is finished as no one will ever see them. I have not really documented many previous examples. But I certainly plan to in the future and am also thinking more about what other purposes they can serve or what their artistic value is. Perhaps I will start to make them more elaborate on purpose to explore this...Just some stray thoughts.
As always, Questions and comments are welcome.
Precision: Process as Muse
Mon, Jan 6 2014 03:17
In the short film, “Precision,” British filmmaker Nick Kennedy swiftly captures a small slice of Machinist Sculptor Chris Bathgate's labor-intensive process. Just as adroit as his subject, Kennedy has choreographed a gorgeous industrial symphony of Chris’ work, process, and aesthetic.
(The song is Bedtime Stories by Amon Tobin from the album ISAM and is available on iTunes here)
The new Documentary piece will also be screening at an exhibition opening this week in the Washington DC area .
The show is called “What’s Up: New Technologies in Art” at the Mansion at Strathmore. The show runs through March 2, 2014, and the opening reception is on January 17, 2014, from 7 to 9 p.m. Click the link for details and Directions.
AR Edition complete
Sun, Dec 22 2013 09:49
A great project to end the year!
Here is an update from a few weeks ago. I had talked about expanding my original AR645452222344 prototype into an edition using various metals and finishes, and now here we are with a completed six piece set. Each is an inverse pair using the three main red metals in my Pallet.
Brass and Stainless Steel
Bronze and Stainless Steel
Copper and Stainless Steel
This edition was a lot of fun and a good way to end the year, but now I am back to work to finish a big project that I had set aside to make these little guys. It wont be completed until after the new year, but it will be worth the wait.
Comments welcome as always
Sat, Nov 30 2013 09:12
This little gem, and I do mean little (just 2 inches) was inspired by a visit from a friend of mine. This friend has always been quite taken with some of my smallest works, and during this particular visit, made it abundantly clear that he felt they were some of my most iconic pieces. Flattery will get you everywhere in life and so I was immediately moved to try and make a new small format piece. Not for him mind you, just for fun. I may expand this into a small edition as I think a bronze and copper version might be in order so please let me know if any of you might be interested in adopting one of them. ( the details on this one are Brass)
I rather enjoy creating these compact little designs. This one being fairly intricate for its size, is assembled completely using mechanical fasteners, which is sometimes quite difficult when working on a tiny scale. the actual base of the sculpture is used as a wrench to tighten the oddly shaped top and bottom caps on the body.
After having completed this piece, a friend of mine commented that he felt that this new work was a bit of a revisiting of older design concepts, rather than a push into new territory. His observation left me wondering whether I should view this as a negative criticism or a compliment. (I tend to take most criticism as a compliment) It also left me thinking about the competing elements of developing ones work, about the relationship between the need for experimentation and mastery. Both of these are necessary, but often at odds with one another and striking the correct balance between them to successfully pursue your muse can be tricky. So I thought I would build on my last post and continue writing in a little more detail about some of the things I think about when I work.
So, for starters, I can't deny that this is sort of a consolidation of ideas as well as a refinement of earlier work, albeit with a few new design twists that may not be apparent to everyone. But below are some thoughts on how this plays out in my work.
On experimentation: When we are younger, everything we do is trial and error, it is how we initially learn anything. But as we get older, our relationship with experimentation changes and so must our approach to it. While the rewards of radical experimentation, doing something brand new, can certainly be big, especially from the perspective of the viewer, there are many hazards involved in this for the artist. Everyone wants to have his or her socks knocked off by groundbreaking work. I enjoy it myself. But the risk of rapid change from the artist perspective can be quite real. From simply lacking the technical knowledge and ability to proficiently execute an unfamiliar idea, to finding ones self with a body of work so diverse and disjointed, you run the risk having an incoherent voice. So we must temper our experimentation with a base of knowledge that will allow us the greatest possibility for success. We must be thoughtful and deliberate when we experiment, if one is too hasty when working in new territory, failure is all but assured, and while failure can generally lead to valuable experience, it can only properly do so if we know what to look for when it happens. If one does not have the domain knowledge to operate effectively when exploring new ideas, small-unforeseen problems can undo the best of concepts, and we may not know enough about what we are doing to understand why, and properly grow from it.
On Mastery: It has been my experience that refinement, by its very nature, has the potential to be much more rewarding for the artist than the viewer, at least immediately. Teasing out the little details that may be invisible to others can be immensely gratifying and often lead to interesting discoveries that grow into future works. To an outside viewer however, these exercises can sometimes feel less inspired or even tedious. For a careful and considered observer though, there is still much to appreciate. The connoisseur can appreciate the nuance, and can see the subtleties for what they are, mastery. I find that the long term implications of refinement are rarely considered in the context of a singular work of art, but can easily be connected to long term benefit for the entire body of art as a whole, in the form of greater proficiency with ones craft. Mastery gives rise to innovation far more consistently than random experimentation ever could. The point of refinement isn't to give the artist a safe comfortable place to tinker that is free of risk, it is an incubation space for new ideas. It is a place where old concepts are re-evaluated for additional value, and previous experience reinforced. Like all forms of learning, repetition has an important place. It is this foundation that most successful experimentation builds from.
The desire to see an artist consistently pushing forward is ever present, I get constant pressure from those around me who are invested in my work to grow quicker, and to change faster and explore new ideas more frequently, and on some level I understand why. I assume it can seem strange to see an artist obsessing on the same thing over and over again. No one likes to see an artist's work become stagnant, but I would argue this is all for good reason. I have already revealed myself as a fairly careful incremental-ist when it comes to my work, but even if that wasn't my nature by default, my process being a meticulous one, demands it regardless. So despite the pressure, I have little choice but to proceed at a steady but deliberate pace and try and use the time it affords me for careful preparation and contemplation. I often attempt to split the difference by tucking new ideas into the smaller details of a piece, while working to master older overall concepts. That way I can develop something new, while fully developing each idea. Taking the time to Master the old, making sure every facet of an idea is explored, is key in building a full vocabulary with which to express ones self confidently. Knowing how to proceed once you do venture onto new ground comes from experience. Refinement is the groundwork for experimentation, it is how you build the creative momentum to actually break into new territory, and it is also what leads to the greatest likelihood of success when you do.
So again, while I think this work is maybe a bit of a reflection, I consider it to be one of the more well implemented little sketches under my belt, and it was a joy to make. Here is a shot for scale, the Stainless discs that makes up the body are two inches in Diameter, so it is quite small, but as with many of my little pieces, it still has very good weight.
(Thanks Adam and Hans)
MX 535612252312412 complete accompanied by an essay on sci-fi comparisons.
Tue, Nov 19 2013 05:26
Here is the latest entry in my ever growing list of machined sculptural works. Depending on how you count things, this one is #87 (on my official list). There are a few early works left off this list and all editions and multiples count as one sculpture each, so you could argue the real count is well over 100.
I thought I would end the year working on two major pieces. This piece is actually a spin off from a design I am still in the process of building. I began fabricating both of them at the same time as they have a lot of overlapping machining processes, but it turns out I was able to complete this one much sooner because it has a simpler overall design. You will have to wait a few more weeks to see its companion piece, but it will be equally as large, but arguably a bit more complex than this one.
Usually when I post about new works, I tend to keep my comments very factual and technically oriented (such as this piece is brought to you by the color "red"). I rarely stray into conceptual territory when talking about specific pieces because most of my conceptual ideas relate to the body of work as a whole rather than being limited to any singular piece, but I thought I would deviate from this a bit for once. Below is a first foray into something a little more in depth ( or long winded ) so I hope you will forgive any lack of polish in my writing.
Lately, I have been doing some public speaking about my work, nothing fancy, but it has become a bit more common. This has provided me an opportunity to think about how my process informs my imagery, and wether or not any or all of that translates into what others see when viewing my sculpture. It has also given me a greater glimpse at how widely perspectives may vary.
I have been showing around early images of this piece, and as is sometimes the case, I have been getting a number of alien/sci-fi comparison comments from some people. This does not bother me in the least, and I certainly understand why this is sometimes the case. But I'd like to use this as an occasion to talk about this a bit because depending on where you stand, this comparison can often be problematic, not only for me as an artist, but for others who might see the work a little differently.
First of all, I should say it has never been my intention to explicitly make art deco, sci-fi, steam punk or ray gun gothic themed sculpture of any kind. Not that I see anything wrong with it, it's just not the direction I came at this from when I started. But I am however, delighted that many people relate to the work in this way, and I am glad that it brings joy to people no matter the context and that they choose to share this with me. But as I am sure many artist can relate, being categorized into one niche or another is never what one wants for their work. H.R Giger being the perennial example of an artist clearly doing their own thing, while for better or worse, cultivating a very large, Sci-fi centric following. Part of the dilemma comes from wanting to make sure one's art is judged on its own merits and isn't mischaracterized, but the other side of that comparison is that it seems there persists a bias, in certain circles anyway, that from a fine art perspective, this can be seen as a largely negative thing.
The argument , correct or not, is based on the assumption that sci-fi themed work is derivative and implies some sort of creative laziness on the part of the artist. That it is either a contrivance with niche appeal or some otherwise less than noble exercise of the mind. Unfair as it may be, it is simply looked down upon by some as being a bit low brow and not to be taken seriously. I tend not to agree with this as there are plenty of examples that prove otherwise and given the cultural overlap we see everywhere these days, I suspect it would be near impossible to draw a line between what does and does not fit this category in the first place. Assuming one of the criteria is that of the artists intent, whether or not I should still care about someone else's value system or not is arguable. However real the bias is or not though, I felt I should own the comparisons where they are justified, address were I think my work may differ and test the waters on what the comparison is really about.
I will freely admit there are obviously a lot of shared visual elements that my process produces that can easily be held up as being distinctly ray gun gothic. Elements that easily point back to what inspired earlier futuristic, or retro futuristic perspectives (what ever you want to call it), I can not deny that it is an inseparable part of the DNA of the processes that I use. The most blunt way to say this is simply "If you turn enough shiny metal things on a lathe, eventually something will look like a rocket ship to someone", so the comparisons are inevitable and denying they exist or being defensive about it wouldn't be very productive. where I think things deviate a bit is that I am much more interested in the act of turning, than the rocket ship.
The above references rarely enter my thought process when I am planning my work. It is not willful ignorance, it is just that I am much more interested in the engineering challenges presented in building, operating, and maintaining the complex array of CNC tools and robotic equipment required to fabricate my sculptures, and the design opportunities that they create for me. Working with metal, and doing machine work in particular provides a creative frame work that I have never encountered anywhere else, and that is what keeps me so engrossed in what I do. Limiting myself based on concerns about how the work will be interpreted for better or worse would be very constraining. I just approach the work as honestly as I can, and leave the worrying for others to do.
So I guess you can say that first and fore most, I think of my work in the context of my relationship to my tools, technology, and materials, how my personal aesthetic can be expressed through those particular constraints. If anything, what I am doing is more of a similar reaction to a confluence of technology and innovation that inspired previous industrial art movements rather than a direct reference to any one of those particular genres.
Other influences in my work, the ones that flesh out particular details and tangents can be as varied and complex as you would expect from the interior life of a full grown human being, and so a bit more difficult to connect with a common thread or weave into an elegant simple statement. I have always been leery about stating too forcefully what my work is really about because there are just too many threads and competing interests, not to mention that I change my own mind quite often.
In the end however, I think most of this is mute. Viewers tend to bring with them, what they know best when viewing any particular piece of art, and so an artist ability to precisely control how his or her work is viewed is limited in a lot of ways. For some, science fiction is simply where they are coming from, and so it is only fitting that it is the lens they use to view the work. I have talked to physicists, architects, jewelers, boat captains and people from all sorts of backgrounds, they all tend to see the work and relate to it through their own particular world view. Every one of them has a unique perspective on my sculpture and they each have wonderfully insightful things to say that I would never have thought of myself. Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way, having only one correct answer is kind of boring.
So then the question still remains, what is my intention, if it is not some vague illusion to some other genre or art movement (seriously, too much art is about other art these days)? well it is sort of the opposite of that I guess. The fact that my work often defies easy categorization is probably the most intentional aspect about it. I enjoy operating in this visual grey area where the work refuses to completely transform into anything particularly identifiable, nor does it give away any clues to its possible utility, and this is with very good reason.
One thing I have noticed over the years, is that when people interact with objects in a normal context, particularly very precise, overly engineered objects, their first instinct is to assume it must do something and quickly attempt to identify or categorize the "thing" they are seeing, be it a can opener, coffee pot, ect. This makes good sense, we usually need to know how we are to interact with the object in question, and it is how we make our way through the world. We are also very accustom to the objects we encounter on a day to day bases giving us easy clues as to what they are to be used for or do, so when this is absent, it can be more than a little unnerving, and I intentionally exploit this phenomenon to great effect. As a commenter recently observed on my Facebook page "The form is so artificial (non-natural) it screams intentional design, which implies purpose, yet the unfamiliarity of the form compared to our commonly understood objects feels like an unresolvable paradox"
So in some sense you could say that I intentionally design objects that seem alien, but alien in its original "foreign" context and not necessarily a science fiction colored one.
This vagueness and people's instinctive desire to understand and categorize things however, can become very problematic when looking at art, and abstract work in particular. It can work both for you, and against you. It has been my observation that the easier your work is to identify, or solve, the quicker people can put your work into its proper mental box and move on to the next thing. It is why, for example, people immediately start throwing out guesses as to what they think one of my pieces resembles. People will say "It's a lamp", or "R2D2", which is all fine and well as it is an honest attempt to understand what one is seeing.
But even in a broader art context, people will immediately try and place a work into its proper canonical context such as expressionism or pop art, you name it. The more difficult you make this process for people, the longer and harder they have to think about your work, and the longer it will feel fresh. One of the side effects of this, for better or for worse depending on your opinion, is that many people who would not otherwise, default quickly to science fiction, because in some way, it is an easier way of saying something is abstract and hard to define without looking quite like a Jackson Pollock or a Frank Stella.
My work intentionally borrows a lot from its process, utilitarian objects, and other industrial engineering cues, it is basically formal abstraction interwoven with my fascination for technical and logistical problem solving, yet it does not fit neatly into what we are used to seeing when we throw around the word abstract. So in a lot of ways, it is a high compliment to have my work compared to other sci-fi aesthetics, because it means by one measure, I am being very successful in what I have set out to do.
I am sure my thinking on this will continue to evolve, but for now I think that is as good a place to start as any. I hope you will consider the new work in this context and I welcome any discussion that arises from it.
Now,back to the nuts and bolts of the new piece.
The work itself is quite large by my standards, it stands approximately 26" tall and sweeps out a 16" circumference. I haven't thrown it on a scale yet, but I would guess about 35 pounds.
I have been using my home made 3D printer more and more to work out my designs in real space, so I thought I would show off one of the models I made while finalizing the design for this piece. Its kind of nice to think that even after the sculptures themselves are sold, I will still have these models as a record for my personal collection.
As always, please feel free to comment or email me with questions.
Also, Thank you Barrett Lewis for the comment quoted above.