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The Work
These pieces, are the result of work with common Mild Steel and Plain Carbon Steel. Controlling color, balance, composition, form  and other concerns became an obsession that consumed several years because steel is like an inebriated person. It acts like it just wants to sleep, but if you wake it up you have to have a plan to control it. It is unwieldy, unpredictable and recalcitrant.

Steel is the foundation for what is going on, but there is an involved technology stack that creates a final piece. The sheets of steel once prepped, stripped, layered, burned, waxed, and generally abused must be “fixed”, sealed, and prepped for macro photography and ultimately transferred onto sheets of acrylic glass, which then get cured by UV light and mounted to a backer and frame.

Most all of the pieces I create are commissions that go to corporate and private collections. These days I am also working through a number of experiments an irish moss extract, pigments, and massive amounts of heat. If successful, it will allow me to focus more time in a deep, meditative artistic flow state where I believe my time is best spent.

About Myself
Born: 1970
MBA University of Texas
Husband, Father, Artist

In 2008 when steel helped me crack my own artistic code. I had worked with wood, pigments, drawing, painting and sculpture but this was new territory. The steel pulled me like no other medium had. Art has always made sense to me. As a child I distinctly remember sitting down to blank sheets and thinking with great zeal “What I am about to do has never been done”! With steel, the chemical and research aspect was very compelling as it meant that not only could the color and form be unique but I could express them through a unique set of medium innovations also. I then discovered that my great great grandfather worked in a metal foundry, my great grandfather owned a metal foundry in Ireland and my grandfather was a metallurgist for the U.S. Navy. Ironically, in pursuit of self-actualization, I was actually putting the pieces of my lineage together.

There is a tiny studio in my backyard where I nurture crazy ideas and artistic visions. Some of these take years of research and experimentation before circling back to the original goal, some never make it back. When I am not creating, delivering, or talking about art, I am working as a member of an Artificial Intelligence advisory team, overseeing a Canadian ISP startup as a Co-founder, or playing with my children.

I am off-course 99% of the time. Maybe that is generous. This work is about continuous failure and continuous course correction. There are steps to the process: sourcing, prepping, burning, sealing etc. but within those neat organized sounding boxes are dark, fragile, unstable, operations that have left me infuriated, exasperated and defeated. Fortunately these are lessons about the irrelevance of failure.

Unlike a canvass, steel is mined globally and so each sheet contains slightly different trace elements and impurities which effect its performance. Heat signatures, mill scale and surface quality all effect performance of steel and the occurrence of these three characteristics happening correctly on the same sheet is extremely rare. Sourcing steel is a time consuming endeavor that has taken me through steel warehouses from Southern Texas to Northern Ontario.

I am an oddity in these massive warehouses mostly full of contractors and steel workers. In my local area they see me coming, and loudly whisper “here comes the looker”. The shop foreman will give me clearance to dig through the stacks and racks. With sky cranes, back hoes and massive steel guillotines they are grungy, noisy, unnerving places, I just try to stay out of the way as much as possible. When workers inevitably get curious I have tried to point out rare qualities in the steel but those moments end awkwardly as if I have overshared. I cut that out.

When the correct sheets are discovered, composition begins right there in the warehouse. Color, form, composition will be roughly laid out so the sheets can be cut down on site. This often is necessary just to get it back to the studio. It’s large, it’s filthy, it’s heavy and it’s meant to go on flatbeds driven by men of the same ilk. I choose to transport it myself in the back of an SUV next to child seats and design magazines so it requires forethought and preparation.

Once back at the studio the steel begins a lengthy transformation process starting with sheet preparation. A lot of what most folks think artists do happens in this step. I will apply layers of wax, rubber and chemicals in a specific order that act as a controlling matrix similar to how topsoil controls rainwater as it passes to lower layers of rock. This control is key because unlike painting or pigments there is no correcting a stroke, the chemicals set off a chain reaction creating color or oxidation that can’t be reversed. Once the prep is complete, I take a deep breath and get to burning.

The majority, although not all, of the chemicals used are acids so this is essentially an etching process. Experience guides most of what happens during because often I can’t see what is happening on the surface of the steel due to wax or rubber layers. I have a general understanding of how each chemical is supposed to act but the unpredictable makeup of each sheet holds a mystery that only starts to unravel once the burning process has begun. During this stage I am often making adjustment after adjustment like a photographer dodging and burning in a dark room. The beauty of the burning stage is that much of it is out of my direct control. Unfortunately, the terror of the burning stage is that much of it is out of my direct control also. At some point I know I am done, like when you know a sentence needs a period, the statement is complete.

Stripping is the moment of truth where I put an end to the chemical reactions and remove the obscuring layers. Ideally water would wash away the wax and the chemicals but water is worthless on melted wax and has a tendency to rust steel once it’s been chemically burned. Rubber on the other hand is great at removing solutions but has a tendency to wreck the delicate surface of the steel. In the end each issue has a solution, and if all went well I’ll be looking a most satisfying piece of work. At least half the time however there is a miscalculation and the sheet is lost. If the wax wasn’t thick enough or the steel too reactive or any one of a host of things can cause the sheet to completely oxidize. Those days require patience. A string of days like that require acceptance.

The final step involves somehow glazing the surface… it could be with epoxy or lacquer or other clear sealant. This does a number of things but essentially keeps moisture and oxygen off the surface. Once they have been burned, the sheets are very delicate and even in a dark closet, if they are not sealed, slight humidity will cause rust to creep over them like mold on week old bread.

Final Steps
In the final steps, the pieces are cropped, photographed, and then printed onto glass. These are important steps that follow a very rigid process. When I first began, this process involved a large format camera with a lense the size of a salad plate. We would turn off the AC because the camera was sensitive to even the slightest breeze and the exposures are so long. The ipad sized negative then had to be shipped to another state where I had located a special type of scanner to scan the negative in super high resolution. This would then be sent back to complete the rest of the piece. This multi-state process involved way too many people, way too much time and money and was utterly fraught with quality control issues. I spent months hacking other options and ultimately settled on doing much of it myself with better technology….’if you want it done right….’ they say.

Forget purity. These pieces celebrate the beauty that arises when random elements become a permanent part of a renegade medium. A reminder that under pressure what some may call impurities are what help us endure and live our true colors.

Christopher Crane
Clarksville Austin