We’d be the first to tell you that welding is an art, though we usually mean that in the figurative sense. With precision, skill and a certain X factor, welding can be used to create beautiful, functional things like buildings and bridges.
Yet not every welded structure serves a functional purpose; there’s an entire subset of welders who are artists in the true sense of the word, using welding to express imaginative concepts, evoke emotions and make observations about the world we live in. Some have even become internationally renowned for their work.
From sheet metal to machinery parts to discarded household odd and ends, artists who weld have a virtually never-ending supply of low-cost materials to work with. What they’re able to do with those materials is, quite simply, awe inspiring.
Here are seven of our favorite examples of welding that go beyond practical applications and enter the realm of art.
You’d never know it from his incredible work, but sculptor David Madero never had any formal training in welding. Instead, the Mexican-American artist began honing his skills as a child while watching his father, also an artist, tinker with an old MIG welder in his workshop.
Madero began his professional career creating small statues and functional artwork like furniture. As word of his work spread and orders started piling up, he hired a team of engineers and technical designers to help him craft the giant, industrial sculptures he’s known for today.
One such piece is the towering 150-foot tall welded steel ‘Monumental Christ’ sculpture seen above. Another noteworthy Madero creation is called ‘Serpentina,’ a pink, 500-foot long ribbon-like steel sculpture that crawls along an exterior wall of the Albuquerque International Airport.
Madero uses a variety of techniques including oxyacetylene, stick, MIG, TIG, and plasma welding in conjunction with a healthy amount of grinding and polishing to produce his art, which encapsulates themes of power, perseverance and the experience of the working man.
Originally from Indiana, David Smith is a renowned abstract expressionist artist best known for his large geometric sculptures crafted from welded steel. As a young man, he learned how to handle various metalworking tools while working as a welder and riveter in a car factory.
In the 1920’s, he moved to New York to pursue his true passion: art. It was there that he began experimenting with three-dimensional materials and transitioned primarily from painting to sculpture as his medium of choice.
Completed in 1950, Smith’s ‘Star Cage’ is considered an important work of the period for its ability to use linear forms to activate the hollow space within them.
The work offers different perspectives when viewed from different angles, prompting the viewer to look not just at it, but through it, much like you do when gazing into space.
Smith’s ability to use intersecting lines and planes to define an open space as he does in ‘Star Cage’ would become a trademark of his work. His sculptures are crafted primarily from found materials using a forge, anvil, and oxyacetylene torch. He passed away in 1965.
This iconic but unnamed Chicago sculpture is by a guy named Picasso–ever heard of him? Chances are you’re more familiar with the Spanish artist’s work as a pioneer of Cubism, but he also has quite the impressive resume as a sculptor.
Dedicated in 1967, the COR-TEN steel piece of art is a fixture in Daley Plaza in the well-known Chicago Loop. It represents a shift in the conventional approach to public art from the commemorative to the experimental.
It was met with some controversy at the time of its unveiling, as up until that point public art installations had mostly featured depictions of historical figures.
Picasso never publicly explained what the sculpture was meant to represent, but his grandson theorized that it may have been inspired by a woman who had modeled for him around the time of its creation. Others have speculated that it was inspired by the artist’s pet Afghan hound.
Picasso, who was famous for refusing to accept commissioned work, was offered a $100,000 payment for the piece, but turned it down.
Alexander Calder was an American sculptor known for his large public monuments and imaginative rotating mobiles. This giant piece called ‘L’homme,’ which is French for ‘man,’ is located in Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau.
Calder was commissioned to build the sculpture for the Montreal World’s Fair in 1967. At the time, his home in France was located near the Biemont Factory, an industrial company. After crafting a small-scale model of his creation, Calder enlisted the boilermakers at the nearby factory to help him construct it on its existing 80-foot scale.
‘L’homme’ is such an interesting piece not just for its sheer size or its sweeping metal planes, but in the way it shifts depending on how, when and where it’s viewed.
The sculpture looks different from 100 yards away versus if you’re standing directly underneath it. Likewise, at different times of day, the sun catches its planes at different angles, casting unique shadows that alter its appearance.
Syracuse-based artist Arlene Abend first picked up a welding torch more than 50 years ago. She was enrolled at a local vocational school in the 1970’s at the height of the feminist movement, and her first instructor refused to teach her how to arc weld. He sent her to another teacher who took her under his wing, and the rest is history.
Abend pursued her art while raising two children and later worked as a commercial artist in New York City. Over her long and successful career, she’s become known for her bold, evocative sculptures that explore themes like struggle, resignation, triumph and other facets of the human condition. Her critically acclaimed piece ‘A Vision,’ seen here, is a cast bronze sculpture created in 1978.
Today, at 85 years old, Abend continues her work from her home-based studio. It looks more like a machine shop than an art studio, filled with tools like a half-ton chain lift, plasma cutter, grinder, vices and five-foot-tall acetylene tanks.
Together with architect John Roberson, Abend designed the 9/11 Memorial Monument for the town of DeWitt, New York.
Russian born artist Antoine Pevsner was a pioneer of 20th century sculpture. He’s credited with originating Constructivism, an artistic philosophy that rejects decorative stylization in favor of more abstract, industrialist design that reflects contemporary industrial society.
Pevsner moved to Paris in the 1920’s and began constructing sculptures made of brass, zinc, copper, celluloid, and wood. In the 1930’s he honed his metalworking skills, developing a technique that used parallel planes of soldered bronze wire to form plates.
He joined these plates to create intricate, abstract shapes with sharp, plunging, and curving forms. He described his art as “inspiration controlled by mathematics,” which isn’t too far off from how you might describe welding as a trade.
Pevsner’s 1954 work ‘Column of Peace’ was created on the heels of years of destruction in France during WWII.
It was conceived as a preliminary model for a larger memorial, which wound up never being completed. Viewers interpret its intersecting, upward-rising columns as conveying a message of hope.
In 1961 Pevsner was awarded the Legion of Honour, France’s highest award for military and civil merits.
Her name is Barbara Parsons, but she’s known in the art world as Barbie the Welder. The American metal sculptor began working with her hands at a young age, when she learned drywall fitting, roofing, and electric work from her father.
Parsons was inspired to try her hand at welding after watching the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, which features a scene where a character welds wings onto the sculpture of an angel.
To this day it inspires her work, which often features Gothic themes as seen in the piece ‘Eleanor’ shown here. She saved up $1,200 to attend a local welding program and landed a job with a local manufacturing and design firm as a sheet metal fabricator.
After spending five years mastering the trade and earning her Journeyman qualification, Parsons left the commercial world to work as an independent artist. She gained popularity through social media, where her pieces were widely shared, and through live demonstrations which helped bring awareness to her work.
She has since built up an extensive list of private and commercial clientele that includes the likes of Harley Davidson.
In addition to Parsons’ work as an artist, she pursues several initiatives meant to help others follow their passions and break into the field of welding.
She has a YouTube channel that shows viewers how to use welding to make art and has published a series of books on do-it-yourself welding and crafting projects ambitious readers can try at home.
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