Tag Archives: art

Steampunk Treasure Boxes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was recently accepted into Galleria Carnaval (https://www.galleriacarnaval.com) in El Morro New Mexico and decided to continue some little sculptures I call Steampunk Treasure Boxes. I made a few of these back in 2011 and had a great time fabricating them. It seemed like a good fit with Galleria Carnaval as the boxes are whimsical and textured with vintage electrical parts. I start with a piece of wood, some are pretty wild in shape, and hand carve out an interior chamber.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then I weld up a sort of hinge out of a large nut and bolt (aged, rusted, etc.), I complete it with copper wires, coils, ceramic insulators and other components from the 1930-1960’s with occasional parts from more recent eras if they have the right look. Something about the scale of the box and its relation to the other parts, their textures and forms, excites my romance about older technology.


LED Chaser Tube

LED Chaser TubeI saw this really cool thing in a video about early computers that used vacuum tubes to make calculations. One type of tube had a ring of lights inside the end of it that chased each other in a sequential circle giving the impression of rotation.

I’ve always been charmed by the look of glass vacuum tubes from an early age when much of the electronics in things like radios and televisions used them. If you took the back cover off while the device was on you’d see a little forest of small glass bulbs, glowing white/amber. These were accompanied by resisters, capacitors and coils, all arranged on a brown board with lots of wires going all over. There was a smell of something hot and sort of melting. The warmth from the tubes was seeping out right at you.

Back in the 1980’s I found some large vacuum tubes (used in radio transmitters) at a flea market in San Jose California that I made into decorative lamps, by mounting the tubes above the big 6 amp transformers needed to light up the plate inside them and make them glow. They used a huge amount of power, and got very hot, but they sure looked beautiful. I experimented with a way to try and make them look beautiful like that, but not draw so much power. Using a small torch I melted a tiny spot on the side of the glass tube. The vacuum inside the tube caused the glass to melt inwards until it eventually burst inwards with a hole just big enough to wiggle a tiny “grain-of-wheat” light bulb into.  These are the little lights you often find in model railroads that only need 6 volts and very little current. If you held the tube so the wires were behind it, it looked just like a normally powered-up tube, but didn’t get hot at all. An electronics engineer friend in the Silicon Valley saw one of these on a sculpture I was making and commented on how cool the vacuum tube looked. He started looking all a round for the big 6 amp transformer that should have been there to give the tube its power. “Now wait a minute…There’s no…(still nosing all around) wait, you can’t just…” “All right (resignedly) how did you get that tube to light up?” I clued him into my little secret. “Looks convincing, doesn’t it?” “Yes, it does!” he said laughing.

The tubes I saw with the chaser lights in the video about early computers must have had small lights in them too, possibly neon. I decide to make a similar object by using a decade counter chip run by another chip that provides a clock signal. In place of lights, I assembled a rig of bright red LEDs. I had to cut the tube away from its base and cut out the original electronics to fit the LED assembly in their place. I’m really happy with the result! You can see a video clip of this thing in action at my KARF website: https://karflab.wixsite.com/mysite/news



One of my favorite aesthetics in the mixed medium sculptures and installations I make is fluids. Fluids suggest life, change, evolution. They can signify tears, blood, flow, gradual or rapid ripples, possibly something uncontrollable and inexorable, joyous and fertile, especially if bubbling is involved (yum!). However, working with them can be pretty tricky in several ways. One is evaporation. One isn’t keen on having to top-up fluids in an artwork often. It occurred to me years ago at my Silicon Valley studio, as I was making a mad scientist wall sculpture, that the most appropriate fluid might be some kind of oil. I wanted my mad scientist helium-neon red laser tube to cast its beam into a fluid that would glow. 30 weight motor oil seemed to work at first, and had a gorgeous honey amber, gooey sense to it, primordial. Unfortunately it didn’t refract enough light throughout.

In the background I hear “…slings and arrows of outrageous skeletons…” from an engineer/artist friend Paul B. (a.k.a. Dr. Zrint in our mad scientist club).

Brake fluid worked for a while till it clouded up from exposure to air.

“ha Ha Hunh!” from behind a big black box marked I wouldn’t If I Were You. Zrint again.

Giggling, I went over to see what in hell was going on. Paul was motorizing a small plastic skeleton to dip in and out of a little vat of fluid in a sculpture he was working on. He wanted a fluid that was clear but wouldn’t evaporate or become cloudy over time. He had struck on the idea of mineral oil for use in his installation piece.

Brilliant! I replaced the brake oil with mineral oil and added a bit of yellow food coloring until it had the tint I wanted, and would refract the most laser glow. Thanks Dr. Zrint!

The reply was “veni, vedi, zzzzzt!”

Liquids are a basic theme to KARF:JT (Kanobis Amplifier Research Facility; Joshua Tree) Research Station 2 that will reside eventually in the shed I have built in Joshua Tree. One of the fluid circulating systems uses oil and I have used water in a couple of other systems, however it is in nearly sealed vessels and I don’t think it will evaporate for quite a few years. Various trips out to make additions and modifications to the installation over the years will allow plenty of topping-up opportunities.

Oh, yeah, and the fluids variously bubble.Bubbling flask still

Research Station 2 detail of glass vessel with clouded liquid among tubes, clamps, displays, cables and wires.

Hidden Drawings

Hidden drawings

Throughout the KARF installation there are hundreds of drawings that are hidden. Some drawings cover pages and pages of the binders and books that sit on the shelves of each workstation but don’t get opened. Some are added to small scrolls that get coiled up and put into odd shaped wooden boxes or metal canisters.  Some scribbles and symbols are marked onto bits of paper that, later are covered up by labels or additional papers with more drawings and writings on them. I can only feel the authenticity of this particular artwork by doing this hiding of things. It fits in with the real world around me. There are hidden things. Each hidden thing has its own presence. I think the presence it has somehow influences me even though I can’t experience it directly. It’s like life drawing. One must understand all the elements under the skin-muscles, bones, arteries and such in order to draw the human form properly. Even though these things are hidden they have presence. So, I feel I have to make the presence of the hidden things so the person who views this installation will possibly feel the presence of the hidden things too. More about KARF installations:https://karflab.wixsite.com/mysite

Page from binder detail, code page with decoder window.

Page from binder detail, code page with decoder window.

small note pad with drawngs

small note pad with drawngs

small note pad detail

small note pad detail