You can think of Valentine Adams and Jeffrey Burke as heavy metal artists. Now, I’m not talking about guitar-shredding rockers of the Metallica variety, though guitars figure prominently in the works of both men. Rather, I’m speaking literally about artists who transform sheets and scraps of heavy metal into exquisite works of fine art.
Adams and Burke will be on hand Thursday, May 18 for Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center’s inaugural Artist Talk at MACC at the Streets, 300 Indian Lake Blvd. A140, Hendersonville. The artists will showcase some of their works, discuss their artistic processes and even provide a musical demonstration or two. The free event starts at 5:30 p.m. and will include some complimentary Tennessee Mule.
A Nashville-based artist, Adams developed a healthy appreciation for good, old-fashioned metal machinery during his 23-year career in the U.S. Air Force. He refers to his art as reclaimed metal sculptures. Not surprisingly, these works possess a certain steampunk quality, with gears and gadgets fashioned into fantastical shapes. The final product is fine art expertly crafted to appeal both to the connoisseur and the layman.
“At first glance, one of my sculptures might appear to be a piece of highbrow museum art,” Adams observes. “But on closer inspection, you’ll see the piece is constructed of old machinery parts that only a blue-collar worker might fully recognize and appreciate. It’s my way of creating a work that will hopefully be accessible to everyone.”
In welding discarded machine parts into the shapes of guitars, animals and even people, Adams has found a way to reanimate America’s industrial past. Metal art reminds him of a time when American consumers bought durable domestic goods. In that respect, his art serves as an effective critique of today’s disposal culture.
“People these days seem to be in constant pursuit of cheap throwaway goods,” says Adams. “I want my art to remind them that there was a time when things were made to last.”
For Burke, a knack for art is something encoded in his DNA. His father was an artist and technical illustrator, and he passed along his artistic genes. As a kid, Burke was always drawing. Cars, cartoons and favorite historical figures all found their way into his sketch books. It seemed almost inevitable that he would attend the American Academy of Art in Chicago to study commercial art.
Burke devoted his professional career to designing exhibits for trade shows, eventually starting his own design company. His passion for art was only exceeded by his love for cars and guitars. He’s been collecting guitars and other string instruments for over 20 years.
About a decade ago, Burke found an ingenious way to combine his passions. He began transferring photographic images of cars and guitars onto sheets of metal, a process he refers to as “artist enhanced” photography.
“I spend a lot of time setting up the photographs,” Burke says. “Details are important, and people who know their guitars will see immediately that this is an image of a Rickenbacker guitar or a Gibson.”
For his Artist Talk on Thursday, Burke plans to add a little music, playing a few tunes on one of his guitars.
“I’m actually more comfortable performing than talking,” he says.