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Burnt Steel Sculpture

James McKenna

United States

Sculpture, Wood on Steel

Size: 6 W x 48 H x 3 D in

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About The Artwork

This totem features a single bar of salvage steel that has been polished and heat treated. Though mirror polished, it retains flaws and scars. The color varies widely in different environments, ranging from almost sapphire blue, to cold gray-blue. The totem can be displayed in full sunlight. Its color is burned into the steel, The color is not a dye, paint, or pigment. The totem is one of a series that incorporate simple metal elements floated over charred wood. They range from 24" to 48" tall. Most are 6" wide or less. They stand out several inches from the wall. Each has its own charm and interest, but they look best in groups of 5 or more. Each totem is unique. I make each design only once. This accords with my need to invent, to create something new. Some textures and forms appear again and again, but in infinite variation. Most of the steel and wood I use is salvaged. The steel comes from junkyards, roadsides, fields. It may be dented, rusted, or gouged, which gives it a strong sense of endurance and strength. Most of the wood is oak, hammered from pallets that carried industrial materials and machines. Typically, scars show here and there. These are hard-working materials that find new life in a beautiful form unlike their previous lives. The charred surface of the wood recalls a Japanese technique for preserving wood siding without paint or other sealant. It's call sho sugi ban. The wood is burned till the surface cracks. But the char is thin. The wood beneath it remains strong.

Details & Dimensions

Sculpture:Wood on Steel

Original:One-of-a-kind Artwork

Size:6 W x 48 H x 3 D in

Shipping & Returns

Delivery Time:Typically 5-7 business days for domestic shipments, 10-14 business days for international shipments.

Endurance and authenticity are the core of my 3D work. Many of my steel works are made with salvage steel and wood. Many are the exact shape and size in which they were found. Fragile surface features of metal—often various shades of rust—are preserved with careful hardware attachment and final assembly. Wood backings—mostly oak—are salvaged from hard-used industrial pallets. The surface of each of these boards is burned with an intense flame. Inner wood retains its strength, but the surface is cracked and fissured. Whether a material is raw, brightened, polished, burned or any of the other surfaces I use—all colors are inherent in the material. Steel appears in familiar gray, or it can be various hues of rust. It can even show colors natural to the metal when it is subjected to heat and glows red, yellow, or even white. Brass and copper may be bright or darkened with patina. Gilding is the butter yellow of pure gold. Texture is essential. Unusual uses of industrial tools create a wide range of textures. Some pieces of steel are spattered with liquid steel. Others have lines ground into them or deep gouges burned out with an electric-arc-based tool that reaches temperatures of 40,000 degrees, instantly boiling the metal and blasting it away. Materials you see in my works have had hard lives, but they have endured. Through all their transformations they remain themselves. An array of these works on your wall speaks of the your own authenticity, and of your endurance. I began in metal years ago as an undergraduate. Then it was small-scale objects of copper, brass, and sliver. Even then I leaned into the raw. My work often mirrored the rough aesthetic of Arte Povera. Through stints in writing, furniture making, photography, I developed my mature style. My work took on nuance and focus. The challenges and satisfactions of my life path underlie my art practice. What I’ve seen and what I’ve done, things I recall with joy, things I try to forget—it’s all here, transformed by my commitment to follow this vision.

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