Schools Training

A Metalwork of Art

10 AUG 2012
Career Path : Apprenticeships

“I use steel to organize space.” Although these may sound like the words of an architect or engineer, they were spoken by an artist named Richard Serra.


Although welding is responsible for some of our most practical tools and structural materials, the art of shaping and bonding metals has also attracted more creative minds. Metal sculpture, made with welding, sheet metal and other techniques, represents some of the largest and most permanent pieces of art in the world. Perhaps it was the first large-scale world war that inspired artists to take up metal as their medium. Artists are known to react to global catastrophes in their work, and the technological destruction of WWI made possible by the industrial revolution influenced the artistic choice to employ welding and metalwork as an appropriate response.


Unlike painting or other forms of visual art, not just anybody can begin sculpting with metal by welding or sheet metal formation on their own. Working with metal requires a respect for the dangers that are involved, like fire, fumes, and even ultraviolet light. Because of the technical skill and hazard involved in this craft, it is highly recommended to get formal training. One does not need to even necessarily attend a formal art school to do so, but any technical program or welding apprenticeship will provide the right education and practice. It doesn’t matter if the apprentice plans on going into business or the arts, so long as the craft is used appropriately and responsibly.


Here are three examples of artists who work with metal, but in very different ways:


  • One of the first large-scale metal sculptures is called Worker and Kolkhoz Woman by the soviet artist Vera Mukhina. Her 1937 work is an attempt to capture the optimism of communism’s monumental ideologies about work, technology, and progress. Since welding is primarily a medium of practical work and construction and not pure art, it was perfectly suited to Mukhina’s artistic vision.


  • A modern big name is the American Richard Serra, who specialized in sheet metal art in the 1970s. Perhaps his most famous is his 1987 piece, Fulcrum, a tall sheet metal sculpture that lets the view enter its space, taking its influence from sheet metal as a form of building construction. The modern city which finds its inhabitants spending more time indoors is therefore reflected by the “indoor” viewing experience of Fulcrum.


  • Another famous postmodern artist is David Smith. He combines abstract expressionism with stainless steel to create surreal pieces of industrial ambiguity, like his Cubi works. The practicality of stainless steel is juxtaposed by pure abstraction of his visually-stunning work.

These are just a few examples of artists working with metal sculpture. While their background and influences vary according to the times, they all share a love for metal as a form of creative expression. If you are interested in experimenting with metal work as an artist, consider a welding or sheet metal worker apprenticeship through a university to get familiar with the medium and to give yourself the time, energy and safe environment to practice it.


Visit Mohawk College for more information on welding, sheet metal, or steamfitter apprenticeship programs.