Metal artist’s sculptures make a subjective art form recognizable
January 7, 2013
A careful examination of metal artist Dave Regier’s work reveals a seamless melding of abstract and realism.
Stainless steel metal artist Dave Regier, Corpus Christi, Texas, has grown accustomed to onlookers asking, “How’d you do that?” At first sight his pieces, albeit detailed, look simple when you consider the capability that modern technologies offer anyone with a connection to a waterjet or laser cutting machine, say at a high-tech job shop.
But looks can be deceiving. A more careful examination of one of Regier’s sculptures will reveal a singular component carefully chosen, positioned, and incorporated into something that morphs into an object greater than itself. The kicker is his components are found inside an object everyone can recognize. It’s his way of honoring the artistic influences of his father while adding his own flare.
Regier was a photojournalist until 1996 when he left that career for an apprenticeship with his father Arlie, an industrial arts teacher turned abstract metal artist. He spent a year learning technique and absorbing his father’s wealth of metalworking and sculpting knowledge before going out on his own. His experiences with his father and as a photojournalist laid the groundwork for his artistic mission—recognizable abstract.
“It’s hard to explain, but the process of composing a picture that tells a story and has a clear, crisp, and clean background—that need and that drive transfer over to my sculpture work, where I need a piece that is crisp, clean, and uncluttered, yet attractive, strong, and striking,” Regier explained.
Regier describes his father’s work as heavily influenced by abstract pieces that rarely are recognizable objects. But for Regier it is essential that the story he tells through stainless steel presents itself clearly to its audience, but at the same time serves its purpose artistically.
“It is really a difficult thing to be in a position where someone walks up to one of my sculptures and says, ‘What is that?’”
If making abstract recognizable isn’t difficult enough, certainly working with stainless steel is. Regier considers stainless his “friend,” now, but it’s taken years to learn the ins and outs of dealing with it for him to get to this point. In that time Regier has learned that stainless moves much more than aluminum or steel when heat and filler metal are applied. He’s also found that it’s difficult to drill or tap holes. But the trade-off to the difficulties, he added, is the contemporary, long-life finish that stainless yields after sanding and polishing.
Regier has been stockpiling stainless steel pieces in various shapes—round, square, tubing, you name it—for 10 years. He stacks each shape so that only the ends are visible. That way he can see the shape and begin to visualize how it might fit within a piece. When it comes time to use a shape, he chooses the pieces and cuts them down to 1-in. lengths; lays those pieces by hand, one by one, into a fixed structure, usually a ring; and starts the design process. When he gets the design he wants, he welds each piece together using GTAW, and flips it over. But how he’s able to make sense out of unrelated objects, well, that’s where the artistry comes into play.
“It’s almost a computer effect that I have in my head. I have a catalog in my head of the shapes I have in the studio, and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and realize that I have a connection between this shape and that shape, and I can make it work.
“It’s a physical manipulation; a physical, tactile exploration where those pieces will nest together well, or they won’t. I’ll turn them around, upside down, or backwards to see what works, and all of a sudden it just starts to flow and off I go.”
When the structure is complete, it’s all brought together with sanding and polishing. The tough part is when a scratch or a flaw is uncovered after polishing even when the appropriate steps were taken. When that happens, the flawed area undergoes the preparation phase all over again.
“The key to polishing, just like anything else in life, is preparation. Stainless steel is, in effect, hard and the buffer doesn’t remove that much material. So the final surface before the buffer is used has to be very carefully prepared.”
But it’s the discovery process at the very end that makes everything—carefully choosing and joining individual pieces, sanding, and buffing—all worthwhile.