This week of summer school at National Art School was exciting, exhausting, terrifying, absorbing, expanding, satisfying… It gave me everything I was hoping for and more.
Paul Hopmeier has been exhibiting sculpture for over 30 years and brought a wealth of technical expertise and problem solving ideas. Sometimes with the group but more often individually Paul would share a way of looking at and thinking about sculpture, helping me to see and think about what I was doing. A small comment about not wanting to lack ambition, or a brief discussion on treatment of ends, and I would suddenly see all sorts of new options and possibilities.
Simon Hodgson, the sculpture studio technician, was on hand all week with advice and help, challenging and suggesting, a tutor in all but name in his own right. Paul and Simon together make a great team – great knowledge, lots of respect for each other, but different perspectives and emphases which again made clear the vast choices we have.
The first day was basically induction and initial practice in safe use of all the equipment available to us. The photo shows one end of the large studio (air-conditioned, thank goodness). At the end are five welding bays, complete with plastic (?) curtains to contain damaging light. We did stick and mig welding. Along the right wall can be seen the large metal cutting bandsaw, on the left wall the sheet metal folder. Left centre is the roller for bending curves. Behind the centre work bench is a belt grinder and a drill press. Out of view is the sheet metal guillotine. The other half of the space is generally for woodwork – we used it as work and discussion area, and for setting out additional tools – different kinds of vise, hand tools, all the safety equipment for eyes, ears, hands etc. Outside was a series of work benches, covered but open, for noisier work – angle grinders (for cutting and grinding), anvils and hammers… There was a lot of equipment to learn about.
It wasn’t until the second morning that we were introduced to oxy-acetylene for cutting and bending. This was the one piece of equipment we could only use under direct tutor supervision, and it properly scared me. In the images above I am adjusting the flame and then cutting some metal. Terrifying.
Then we were let loose. Everyone had brought some bits and pieces of steel scrap and maybe some found objects. We each had oddments from the training process – some cut and bent sheet, a curve of flat bar etc. Outside were some piles and bins of dumped material for us to pick over – off-cuts, abandoned student work, some donations from Paul. We could each decide what we wanted to do, to use, ask for or be offered help and advice, then just do it.
I started with more welding practice. Stick welding you need to control speed, angle, feed (of the stick) and placement/direction. I could manage maybe two of those at once. MIG was a bit easier – no changing distance to work to manage feed, but the sensitive trigger kept auto-feeding wire when not wanted.
My first piece evolved from a series of experiments and then a sort of iterative response to what was happening. No progress photos, but the sequence was something like: Trying out the sheet metal guillotine to cut some strips of thin sheet; combining using plain weave; tacking together using the mig welder (difficult not to melt the thin sheet). Where to go next??? Trying out a different join method by riveting the woven piece to the sample curved metal bar. The result stood up on the table in a curve. Where to go next??? Maybe another piece of welded weave to curve around the back. More cutting, weaving, welding, bending. Put the two pieces together. Boring. Dead space. Dull. Don’t want to do that. Where to go next??? The first bit looks a bit like a mask or helmet. The second piece could be a belly or flank. Nope, sizes are wrong. Swap them. Head and torso? How to join them??? Rummage around the metal bins, found some scrap of heavy mesh. Could weld it on. Where to join? Some discussion, try-outs holding with vises. What angle? Some hammering to match curves. Welding. Pieces are joined. Where to go next??? Could it be free-standing? Audition some possibilities. Not convinced. A wall piece? Oh, that looks promising. Need a hanging mechanism. Bend tabs on that major curve? Complex angles. Cut off excess length of curve and weld on back tabs at good angle? Why not weld right across? So some cutting, grinding, drilling of holes, welding. How to finish/protect the metal??? That final question remains undetermined, but that aside at the end of Wednesday I called it done.One of my happiest moments in a very happy week was when Paul called this “resolved”. I am thrilled by the process and thrilled with the result.
It’s around 73 cm high, 31 cm wide and sits 19 cm off the wall. I find the textures, the balance of weight and space, the amount of irregularity of form, satisfying. It reads best seen from the front, but has some interest from all angles. I chose not to tidy or hide any part of the process. Messy learner welds remain messy. A couple of sharp external points had a little grinding, but otherwise the result seen is what happened. I think for this piece it works.
It was hard to get moving on a second piece. Finally I decided to develop some ideas based on my random weave vine and wire piece from the class with Brooke Munro (15-Jan-2017). Instead of the vine I could weld a rough basket form of bent rod. I had some interesting bits of wire, knotted and cut ties from the scrap metal yard. The tie wire used in the vine work could be used again in random weave, giving a third weight of line.
A cycle of work repeated all of Thursday. Put on outside work gear (leather gloves, eye protection, ear plugs and muffs). Take a piece of scavenged rod, around 1 cm diameter. Bend in interesting curves that will match work in progress (wip) – no machinery, just rod firmly in vise, long hollow square cut rod placed over end to provide long lever, strength I didn’t know I had in me. Take bent rod and wip inside, change into welding gear (leather gauntlets, welding mask). Long frustrating process using magnets, vise-grips, bricks etc to hold rod and wip in place. Tack weld (or bump and have to re-set). One tiny weld and suddenly everything could be moved around, turned upside down, and the weld completed. Repeat. Repeat again. And again.
On Friday morning I made a start on the random weave. I also found materials and time to make a sort of tuning-fork shaped device that can be held in a vise and assists bending (demonstrated to us on Monday, but unfortunately forgotten by me on Thursday – but at least now I have one). It’s still a work in progress, but I can continue without needing any specialist equipment.
This was a great class and I’ve learnt lots. It was good to be able to incorporate weaving, basketry and thread skills and sensibilities right from the start. I’ve since spent some time thinking about minimal home studio setup, or maybe joining a maker-space. Certainly I see all the techniques and materials feeding into future work.
This was the last activity included in the five month plan developed in September (15-Sep-2016). Next I need to review what I’ve been doing and update the plan.
Exciting days ahead.