Building the The Dream


This piece just exploded out of my head one evening while I was working on ‘Oculus‘ in my shed. It was a while back, but I’m pretty sure there were copious amounts of vodka involved, because it always seems the drink brings out the true dark side of my inner artist.

I had reached a point working on Oculus that I just didn’t know what I wanted from it. It was pissing me off. I thought it was stupid. I was having trouble with the solder joints. It just wasn’t going right, and I was terribly vexed. So I sat down on the drum throne I used as a stool in my shed, and feeling utterly dejected, I did what any self-respecting artist does when blocked.. I drank.

I was just staring off into the cluttered corners of my shed and fuming, when I spied a plastic skull that I’d used as a halloween prop for many years. I had a little flash… skulls and steampunk go hand and hand, right? What if..

Well, a couple hours (and a great many drinks) later, I had the basic sculpture knocked out. I don’t know where this thing came from, but it spoke to me as I was putting it together. It told me that it had been enslaved by corporate greed and was being forced to produce work long after it’s death. A single solder tear hung from it’s cold staring electronic eye, which beheld only a sea of cubicles. A window cut into its head, however, revealed a dream of the beach, and of freedom and happiness.

I’m sure the whole corporate greed angle came from my resentment from spending 20 years in the corporate world when I should have been out building art, only to receive a big fat layoff in the end for my loyalty. They say inspiration rises from adversity, and well.. I had been feeling pretty adverse. I’m not bitter though. Really.

I look at my time in service of the corporate machine as a school of life experience. Some people are made for it, some aren’t. I never did fit in, but I made a lot of really great friends and learned a lot about life, so it wasn’t all bad. It did however leave me with a big hole in my soul, and a pretty bad taste in my mouth for the way people act when money is involved. These feelings are part of why I’m so drawn to steampunk art, it’s the leftover, used up detritus of society… yesterday’s gold.. useless to the people who have moved on to the bigger, better deal, but magical to those of us just a little off-kilter. I find that I relate to it.. I feel like a bit of used-up detritus myself sometimes.

This piece sat for months as it looks in the first photo up there – untouched. Quite a few months after that fateful night in the shed, my better half Christina and I decided to condense our 10-year plan of living in the Caribbean to a 5 year plan. We were both out of work, and burned out with corporate society. We sold just about everything we had, rented out the house in Orlando and moved to Key West to spend a few years learning to sail, and acclimating before escaping the world on a sailboat.

This of course threw a huge wrench into my work-shop situation. We were now living in a one bedroom apartment, with no yard. Not having a lawn and yard to maintain is fantastic, but I really miss my workshop. I was worried that I’d lose my inspiration to work on my pieces, let alone have space to work on them. Well that fear was unfounded, as I find myself even more inspired now. I built a small bench out on the back porch, and do a lot of my work on the kitchen counter. Hey, it’s granite.. not like I’m gonna hurt it much… You’ll notice in the background of a lot of these photos the mess that Christina has to put up with in the house. Someday soon, I hope to reach a point where I can rent out a small garage somewhere, but for now.. the kitchen is the place.

One day it just hit me.. I had to finish this thing. Off I went to Home Depot, which is a lovely 20 minute bike ride from our apartment. There’s an Ace hardware that’s much closer, but Ace.. sorry buddy.. you’re prices are a little out of line.. especially for someone with no job. I have to admit though, if you’re ever in Key West, hit the Strunk Ace Hardware on Eaton St.. it’s heavenly.. that is if you’re feeling rich.

The eye piece is simply some fittings with a lens soldered in the front. I wrapped the edges of the glass with copper foil used in stained glass construction, and soldered that sucker in. An image of a cubicle farm is on a slide inside the barrel. You have to move back and forth while looking into it to focus on the the image, but that’s kinda cool.. it makes it feel a bit more interactive.

I mounted another transparency of a photo I took at the beach on the backside of a thick lens that I’d mounted to the bottom of a 2″ copper tube. I soldered a bunch of tiny brass pipes inside the tube, and attached a flange on the far end that I then hammered to match the contour of the skull. The solder joint on this and most of the pieces of this piece is pretty sloppy, but that’s intentional, I wanted it to look rough.

The slides are backlit by a few white LEDs.. nothing too fancy.

I added a few 6 gauge copper wires to the outside, two attaching to the skull with a couple of really cool copper connectors, and another which spirals around the back pipe, and attaches to the base with the same connectors.

I soldered a nice drip on the base right under the eye, so it looked as if the skull was crying.

The skull itself I wiped down with a red mahogany wood stain, then took a very small brush and painted the small cracks and drips onto it with the same stain. It took a week or so to stop being sticky, but it’s a much more realistic grunge color than I could have gotten with opaque paint.

So that’s about it.. it’s done..

I call this one The Dream, and it only took about 8 months…. hopefully all my sculptures won’t take this long, or it’s going to be forever before I can build up a decent body of work. My friend Jeff is visiting this weekend from Orlando, and I’m sending this back with him so he can photograph it for me. I’ll post the photos when he sends them to me.

I’m much happier with this piece than with my first piece – oculus. It’s still not quite right in a few places, but if I can get just a little better with each piece I make, I think I’ll be hitting all eight cylinders in no time.

Once again I feel as if I’ve given birth, and I’m happy to be done with it.. although I don’t think I’ll be quite so happy to let this one go as I was my first piece. I’m going to miss this one…