Mysterious Machinery (Part 2)

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on June 1, 2011 by bernardcorman

I love cut away drawings and I thought it would be cool to do a cut-away sculpture. Using an illustration from a car repair textbook from the ’60s, I sculpted a very small but highly detailed engine and put it into the body of a 1959 Oldsmobile, a car I admired. I had a connection to a guy named John Hildebran up in Maine that I had met during my time there.  John ran a small foundry that cast stainless steel.

Cut-Away Oldsmobile (engine detail cast in stainless steel)

I sent him a number of the engine waxes to be cast in stainless. I cast the bodies of the cars in bronze at the Atelier.

In one of the magazines I had bought to work on the motorcycle piece, there were some cool cut-away drawings of motorcycle engines. I made some intricate line drawings from some of these pictures and thought it would be fun to make some T-shirts with these. Somehow I ended up at a small, local bike show with the shirts and some of my small bronzes. One of the people there was taken by my work, especially the piece that was the Caddy front end melded to my wife’s ass. He liked it but wanted to know if I could make it bigger, and use a ‘57 Chevy instead of the Caddoo. I said sure.


Mysterious Machinery

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on May 22, 2011 by bernardcorman

During this period of time I also worked on my own projects. A lot of my best ideas came to me in the form of images that would just pop into my head. Many times this would happen as I would be falling asleep, a time when the wall between your conscious and sub-conscious mind is low. One such image was of a man turning into a motorcycle. This idea became ‘Iron Horse,’ which of course is a retelling of the Centaur myth. Instead of half man/half horse, we have a half man/half motorcycle blend.

I bought numerous magazines with photos of bikes. I had my trusty book of weightlifters for the figure, as well as the other source material. This was a

Modern retelling of the centaur myth

Iron Horse, classic sculpture by Bernardo (click to enlarge)

 complicated piece to sculpt and also to mold up. There were molds for the seat, the back suspension/axle, and the muffler as well as the main man/motorcycle mass. Once all the pieces were put together in wax, then the task of gating, or spruing, was required.  Again this was a large and complicated procedure for this sculpture, due to all the various components that needed to be fed with the molten bronze.

Fortunately I had a friend in the spruing/ceramic shell department. His name was Shelton Jacocks Jr. He was a very cool, laid back, black guy. He helped everyone with gating questions and he helped me figure out the best approach with this one.

Welcome to the Machine

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on May 7, 2011 by bernardcorman

After several years of working in the wax chasing area I was getting tired of the department and the work. I had been honing my skills doing bronze work including teaching myself to TIG weld and chase the bronze (finish the surface).

I asked Donna Warner if I could move to the metal chasing area. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea. I had to ask her several times. At the time I started asking to move, the chasing area was run by a woman I’ll call Molly. Molly was talented and well liked in her department but she had some emotional tendencies that interfered with her ability to function appropriately. She had become involved with one of the apprentices and was having an emotional meltdown because it had come to an end. Eventually it got so bad the Atelier had to let her go.

They replaced her with a guy named Dave Martin who was a real piece of work. This guy really missed his calling as an FBI agent or a traffic cop. I could not understand what he was doing in a place like that. He had absolutely no artistic tendencies or any kind of imagination that I could see. He was a company man from start to finish, a real stooge to the front office types, another example of the political machinations of the place. I hated him.

Soul Purpose

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on April 27, 2011 by bernardcorman

Another friend of mine in the chasing department was a man named Jim Love. Jim was a truly gifted metal worker. He was really laid back and cool. I could always ask him about welding or chasing bronze and he would help me with advice or by showing me stuff. One time he showed me a very cool technique for heating and twisting metal rods that resulted in very organic spiral shapes. He himself used the method to produce some really interesting objects. One of these was a heavy round stainless bar twisted up that culminated in a mushroom cloud shaped mass on top that was composed of a hundred or so smalll skulls welded together. It was beautiful and disturbing at the same time.

Jim was funny and smart, he loved drinking beer and he was a ladies man. I admired him for his abilities and his spirit. A few years after I left the Atelier, Jim Love passed away from cancer. He was in his late thirties. He had had childhood cancer and beat it but sadly it returned in his adulthood. Everyone who knew or worked with him was devastated by his passing. I still think of him often. And I’ve been using the technique he showed me for working metal to produce a series of walking sticks that are very striking. In a small way its how I choose to honor Jim’s memory.

Whatever and a Day (Part 4)

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on April 16, 2011 by bernardcorman

Another of my friends from this period was a guy named Garret McFann. He worked in the metal chasing area. Garret was a small, quiet man but he was one of the funniest and strangest people in that place. He was and is an absolutely brilliant figurative sculptor with a keen interest in Western (American) art.

Sculpture by Garret McFann

His studies of cowboys and Native Americans are amazingly detailed and shrewdly observed, not to mention painstakingly historically accurate.

Garret wouldn’t say much but he had a twisted sense of humor. He used to use a small grinding tool to put small figurative sketches on the inside of some of the large sculptures he worked on before they were all welded closed. I loved that, it was so subversively creative. He wasn’t the only one doing it. Some people would put messages on the outside of some of the Seward Johnson pieces, usually very small and in innocuous places. When I worked on my monumental bronze ‘CaddyCorner,’  I put some stuff on the inside, thinking about Garret while I did it.

Whatever and a Day (Part 3)

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on April 13, 2011 by bernardcorman

So another clown around the place was a guy named Dan Lomax. This guy couldn’t figure his way out of a piss soaked paper bag with a pair of sharp scissors and a detailed plan. And yet through whatever inbred politics ruled that place he was in charge of a specialized fabrication department. He had a technician working under him that did all of the actual work, a small, older Japanese guy whose name I can’t recall but who was phenomenally talented. He (the Japanese guy) would get there early in the morning and work like a demon all day long.  He was amazing. Lomax meanwhile would wander around sucking on a pipe with a vacant look on his face.  When the special fab unit shut down, he used his influence to force a friend of mine, a kind woman named Janet Smith, out of her position as buyer so he could do it. (He wasn’t much good at that either, as I recall).  There were lots of political shenanigans that went on in the Johnson Atelier.  It was one of the things I truly hated about it.

Whatever and a Day (Part 2)

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on April 3, 2011 by bernardcorman

Once you ran the gauntlet of fools in the front offices at the Atelier, you were in back where all the action and fun was. Each department had its own tone and character depending on the work being done there and people that worked in them.

Mixed in there were the numerous apprentices that were working their way around the various departments. The apprenticeship program was a nice feature at the Atelier at that time. Young artisans from many different countries worked for a modest hourly wage and learned each aspect of the casting process. Plus, like the staff employees, they could also cast their work up for cost. 

In the mold room, I was friendly with a guy named Clay Ervin. Although he didn’t run the department, Clay was (and is) one of the most talented mold makers I’ve ever seen. He was extremely meticulous and thoughtful about his craft. He was always very generous with his time and advice. 

Clay’s personal artwork is very hard to explain. It was a form of extremely abstracted figurative work. It almost always involved a button-down oxford shirt and pants, only in wildly varying forms. Like tubes, or flat squares. They were all sort of self-portraits. Clay’s sense of humor was both profound and very silly at the same time. Quite an achievement.