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Photos by Dante Fontana
While some artists are inspired by natural scenes, memories of places they’ve traveled or the way light plays across a surface, sculptor Andy Byrne says he is inspired by his materials alone.
A self-described scrounge, Byrne spends much of his time rummaging through scrap heaps and salvage yards, looking for discarded pieces of metal that he can transform into fine art. “I used to be a hat and jewelry maker, and I would solder pieces of my jewelry together, but that was way too expensive,” Byrne says. “Now I use anything from pieces of steel pipe I slice up on a band saw to barbed wire or perforated steel.”
A professional artist for 25 years who got his start making hatpins and hats, Byrne got into sculpting about 10 years ago. He currently has three lines of expressionist steel geometric pieces that he sells almost exclusively at fine art shows. The first, his line of trees, can either be wall pieces or freestanding works of art and are primarily made of steel; however, he recently started adding more bronze – coins for leaves and bronze butterflies are some of the more ornate details. Another line was inspired by the barbed wire he came across when clearing his property. He formed it into hearts, and he sometimes adds nails to them. The final line is made up of his abstract work. Those tend to be larger, with wall pieces as big as 16 by 20 feet. “I like to look for materials that complement each other,” he says. “I’ll make them functional or nonfunctional depending on how they work together. They’re very geometric.” Fruit bowls made of slices of steel pipe can be displayed freestanding or hung on the wall as decorative works.
To construct his creations, Byrne says he taught himself how to weld and primarily uses a MIG wire-feed welder, but he also uses a torch occasionally. Repurposing scrap metal is appealing not just in money saved, but also in an environmental sense, Byrne, who also sits on the Amador County Planning Commission, says. “I prefer to be environmentally conscious,” he shares. “I also find that old metal tends to be more inspirational. The character of older metal is unique, and it’s not something you see on new pieces.” When he buys new metal, it’s primarily to make frames for his larger pieces. It’s difficult to find scrap metal that is straight and undamaged for as long as it needs to be to frame a large wall-hanging piece.
Byrne considers being an artist his job but says it comes naturally to him. “If I didn’t sell it, it would be piling up around my house,” he says. “It’s just something I need to do. I’m fortunate that I’m able to do what I love and make a living. If I wasn’t having fun, I’d have to get a real job.”
Visit andybyrne.com for more information.