“Heat, like gravity, penetrates every substance of the universe, its rays occupy all parts of space.” ~ Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier
Heat, when applied to certain raw materials, has the ability to completely transform the chemical structure of that material. And some artists have tapped into this fascinating process to transform raw materials –– metals, ceramics, glass, etc. –– into unique pieces of art.
In this Art Discovery virtual series, artists Todd Paxton, Michael Jones and Myron Whitaker detail how they use heat to cast, mold, forge and fire materials into fine art –– and each does so very differently.
Sculpture artist, Michael Jones has been a “metal guy” since high school, learning the craft of welding at an early age. He spent many years working in the welding trade, always doing sculpture on the side. But 34 years ago, decided to make sculpture his career.
“One of the things that has always drawn me to metal is that it’s going to last well beyond my lifetime. It’s enduring,” Michael said. “I feel just as passionate today as the first that I created my first piece.”
While Michael works in steel, artist Todd Paxton focuses on bronze. But only after he originates his pieces in clay.
“The first time I put my hands to clay, I got the bug. It was so fun and expressive. I had to do it,” Todd said.
But that’s not where his pieces end. Each sculpture then undergoes a multi-step, lost-wax process to eventually end up in a cast bronze piece. And for Todd, this means he has to make his metal molten, which for a bronze is typically between 1800 to 2100 degrees!
Myron, on the other hand, uses heat in a completely different way. Working in ceramics, high-heat kilns are used to harden his clay pieces but also give permanence to the glaze, which he creates himself.
“I was always a fan of ceramics all the way back in high school,” he said. “Then I lost touch with it for around 20 years. one day, I run into my old past school teacher and she got me into an adult ceramic class and it started, and I ended up going back to the degree in ceramics and fell in love with it. One day, I ran into my old high school teacher and she got me into an adult ceramic class. I ended up going back to get a degree in ceramics and fell in love with it.”
Myron uses a technique called Raku, a type of Japanese pottery making in which the piece is removed from the kiln while it’s red hot and allowed to cool in the open air.
“It’s a very fast process,” he said. “Most ceramics take about 36 hours to fire. Raku can be done in about 30 minutes. It causes effects in the glaze that you can’t get in any other process.”
Watch the full Art Discovery below to hear how these pieces come together, some of their lessons learned as they were refining their craft, and how there’s actually a lot of chemistry involved in using heat to create art. For more on each of the featured artists, check out: