Life in abstract

Artist makes a living from two loves—art and welding

Practical Welding Today March/April 2011
March 14, 2011
By: Amanda Carlson

Artist mi Chelle Vara is one of the lucky ones. She has found a way to combine her two passions—art and welding—into a career and a business that she loves.

Pot'ente by mi Chelle Vara

Artist and welder mi Chelle Vara stands next to “Pot’ ente” made of repurposed metal, galvanized and topcoated with hand-made paint.

Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? Or, is it a little of both?

Neither one comes with instruction or ever seems well-defined. Just ask artist mi Chelle Vara. For instance, there was a time when Vara thought her life would be defined, at least partially, as an industrial welder. She went to school, earned certifications, trained as an underwater welder, and even worked for an MRI manufacturer as a TIG welder. But after realizing that working day in and day out within strict boundaries with a high routine factor just wasn't for her, she had to switch gears. It turns out that the variety she was able to achieve with her art was something she could no longer live without, and finally, she succumbed.

"Art really calls me, so much more than any other job. Art has a lot of difficult facets to it and it's always changing," Vara explained.

The good news for Vara was that she didn't have to choose between welding and art. Inside Vara's own Ballard Road Art Studio in Wilton, N.Y., is a business that allows her to be both welder and artist in the same breath. She and business partner Chad Wilson fabricate handrails, gates, functional artistic pieces like furniture, and sculptures.

Vara works closely with clients to design functional or sculpted pieces that encompass their personalities and blend into their own original space.

The first step is researching the space in which the piece will reside.

"I'll actually go to their yard and watch how the light rises and sets; how they'll view it from their house; and how the traffic will view it. We take everything into account. The site is very important because it changes throughout the day."

Evoking a Feeling

Sculpture—where conceptual design meets reality—is where Vara is most content. Using MIG, TIG, an ironworker, milling machine, and a lathe, just to name a few, Vara marries the client's concept to the material and begins manipulating and joining pieces together to form the finished product.

Wilson chimes in on facets such as the installation process by considering weight and trajectory and deciding how best to perform the installation safely and securely.

Vara met Wilson outside of his own fabrication shop and the two struck up a quick professional partnership—each one volunteering time to help the other at his or her shop. In the mid-2000s, Wilson closed his shop and joined Vara at hers full-time.

"He does the very meticulous research and he's very detailed with aesthetic things. For instance, he'll pick out a bolt that stands out because it's not a matching color. Little details like that are really important. Sometimes I'm on a deadline and I'm not seeing that one bolt, so it's good to have another pair of eyes. He also organizes the cranes, he organizes putting the sculpture on the truck and getting it off the truck, and other things that I don't even think of."

Most of Vara's work is heavily veiled in abstract elements. Take her flatwear creations (see Figure 1) or the twisted I-beam she named "Life" (see Figure 2). Each sculpture's shape and lines allow the viewer to use his imagination and decide for himself what's in front of him and how it makes him feel.

Vara believes no one should be spoon-fed anything, including how to interpret art.

"Let's face it, the universe has gotten really lazy. I believe that an onlooker should interact with the work. Their interaction, at that point, should be their own thought. If they are emotionally engaged, then I've done my job. I want to evoke in people a feeling—whether it is good, bad, or indifferent."

On top of being an accomplished welder and metal sculptor, Vara also is a talented painter. Still, she added, there's nothing quite like working in three dimensions. It offers the artist an outlet for expression that is simply not possible in two-dimensional work. But when push comes to shove, for Vara, it's all about one thing.

"The welding is my favorite part because I get to go into my mute space and just create."

mi Chelle Vara, 6 Ballard Road, Wilton, NY 12831, 518-744-1664,

Amanda Carlson

Amanda Carlson

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8260

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