Sculptor Greg Brotherton makes repurposed, awesome steel figures that look like some cross between a creepy robot likely to kill you, and a mad scientist’s adorable sidekick. You know, the kind that would kick Wall-E’s ass then give him a vintage clock he pulled off his own bodywork as compensation. The point is, Greg knows how to turn cast iron into something pretty magical, so we chatted to find out just where his inspiration bug bit all those years ago.
main image: The Calculator
We've read that you've had the creative bug since you were an infant. How do you think your approach to putting together a new piece has changed, if at all, as you've grown up?
When I was a kid everything was about building and process. Whether it was modified toys, a skate ramp, or a land mine, I built things just to learn how to build them. I destroyed things to know how they worked. I wanted to know how everything worked, but I didn't want to ask anyone; I found out through experimentation. Even in art school I think I was more of a technician that loved to experiment than an artist.
That changed as I mastered process. What was once fuelled by angst and craftsmanship needed to become more sophisticated in order to grow. My focus has shifted to developing an emotional connection with the work, and the process doesn't inform the outcome as much.
Tell us about the first sculpture you made that most sticks out in your mind. What makes it stand out for you?
I think 3 Prisoners was a piece that really changed my direction. It feels like it came from a bigger story and I like that added depth. I try to work that feeling into all my pieces now, like illustrations from a book you read but can’t quite remember.
How do you feel your graphic design background and skill as a sculptor inform each other?
They are both pivotal to the work. My sculpting skill makes a piece detailed and complex while my graphic design sense keeps it simple and balanced. Layout, size relationships, eye flow, all these things come from graphic design and they interact closely with the emotional posture and material techniques of my sculpting.
A lot of your work toes a line of being both dark and somewhat endearing. How did you come to settle on the style that we see now in your sculptures?
It's just a world that grew in my head. It's a vague and abstract one but it has certain aesthetic and emotional guidelines; I think it's the median point of what I'm drawn to. In that way, it's a more a reflection of my personality than a ‘decided on’ style.
Who and/or what are some of your biggest inspirations to create?
I'm inspired by other creators like Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, The Quay Brothers, Franz Kafka, George Orwell, China Mieville, and just about anyone that can get me out of my own head for a while... It's just so real and cynical in there. I also love listening to weird, hypnotic, deranged, and experimental music while I work.
With pieces like The Calculator, Facing Medusa and Minitron, how do you tend to see the human shape in pieces of repurposed metal? What makes a scrap catch your attention as a possible limb or body part?
It's different for every piece. I love cast steel and iron parts from antiques like sewing machines and cash registers. These were often sand-cast from wooden masters and have an organic quality that's hard to find in more modern machines. Turn of the century cast iron on the larger scale is also fantastic, but usually too big and heavy for my work.
I tend to re-fabricate these parts or miniaturize them from reference photos. Many assemblage artists work exclusively from found objects and finding the parts is where they design. I do a lot more fabricating of parts and try to work a few iconic pieces into designs done on paper first. It is important to me that the pieces have an authentic mechanical quality but not that they always come from actual scrap.
Finally, how did you and Matt Devine stumble across the Glashaus space that now houses your work studio and the Device Gallery?
When I moved to San Diego I was right in the middle of getting ready for a show. I needed to clear coat a steel sculpture DeSoto Rising (pictured above) and I hadn't set up a shop yet, so I Googled San Diego sculptors looking for someone that could refer a painter. I e-mailed Matt and he said to bring it down and I could use his shop.
That led to me renting space in the same building where we became friends. When he started looking for a bigger studio he found the Glashaus space, it was way too big but it was such a cool building. I partnered with him and we developed the space into 10 different studios that we sub-leased so we could afford to take the building.
See more of Greg's work on his site.