In late January, I was invited out to a fabrication shop in North Plains, Oregon and asked if I wanted a job painting 230 silicon bronze panels with diluted acrylic paint and a blowtorch. I was not going to say no to this.
Two weeks after completing the job, I have finally stopped waking up at 3am with my torch hand cramped into an unbreakable claw.
The Sellwood Bridge Gateway Stratum public art project was designed by Mikyoung Kim of Boston. Oversight was by the Regional Arts and Culture Council. Fabrication was by sculptors Jim Schmidt and Sam Nagmay of Art & Design Works. I was called in by Robert Krueger, the consulting art conservator for the project.
The shop isn't really in North Plains itself, but up in the Coast Range foothills surrounded by doug-firs and Schmidt's big sculptures. My commute back home to St Johns took me further into the hills and then down Logie Trail.
For all the things at the shop that wanted drawing (gas-fridge-fish-smoker, fresh clam shucking, lots of blowtorch action) there was far more bronze that needed painting, but I still got about a dozen scribble starts in my notebook to finish later. Here are the ones I managed to finish.
While I was there working on Stratum, Art & Design Works had another project being finished up: a sculptural video installation designed by Jim Blashfield for a site in Seattle and being machined by fellow named Scott, not one of the usual shop crew, but totally friendly. Nagmay, Schmidt and their fuzzy machinist wunderkind, Brady, also kept a flow of personal projects, material experiments, and small, but critical, public art repairs moving through the shop. I kept ear protection handy.
The Stratum is 23 stainless steel towers gently twisting along the east approach to the new Sellwood Bridge. The towers themselves were patina'd by Nagmay with crisp, harmonic stripes in a narrow range of red, purple, ochre. The bronze panels were to be attached to the top and middle of the towers. Nagmay gave the panels a warm ferric patina as an undertone, then they were rinsed and sent over to my station (the best view of my station is in another, more personal, post).
My task was to create somewhat organically striping strata in warm ochre and a green turquoise, not far off what you'd get with a copper patina, but a little more to the blue. The stripes would be close to a pattern Nagmay had created with a cupric patina, while not pretending to not be paint. The panel colors needed to play against the oxidized towers, the river, the sky the hills. And they needed to be lightfast and durable.
I worked with a very limited palette of Golden Fluid acrylics and drastically diluted the paint so it could go on in several thin, hot layers. The panels were heated with a torch and the temperature maintained as pass after pass was made with loaded bristle or ox hair brushes. As it cooled, a coat of medium was put on to separate the color from the varnish.
We created test panels, then sample panels and sent these to Boston for approval. Once given, we began with the single-color lower panels that could be installed without a lift, and then did the upper panels.
The shop filled up with panels. Wooden trusses on saw horses held them waist-high leaving narrow aisles to walk through. They were varnished, waxed and safely stored until installation.
Installation was completed this past weekend during a two-day sun-break.