PERHAPS THEY’RE FLIRTING WITH THE GODS, because what they do here is forever, permanent, cast in bronze.
The here is Tucson’s MetalPhysic Sculpture Studio on the south side. The they are Jay Luker and Tony Bayne, the partners who started the foundry in 2001, and their co-workers, nearly all artists in their own right, who do the molding, casting, welding, grinding and chemical patina work that alchemizes a sculptor’s creation into an object intended for forever.
And MetalPhysic isn’t just a place where they pour molten metal, it’s a high-tech state of the art foundry that dramatically expands the scope of what the sculptor can create.
The 10,000 square foot shop, I found on a recent visit, is well laid out for the complex work flow that for large pieces can take many months of labor. It’s loud with clanging and grinding; bright with blue arcs of welding. Tucson sculptor Mark Rossi – who rates MetalPhysic as among the best foundries anywhere – was there putting finishing touches on a piece prior to molding.
A key to the operation is a quiet room with six computers stuffed with software packages and a device that renders three-dimensional laser images of objects it scans. The images are fed to a computer numerically controlled milling machine capable of producing Styrofoam copies of virtually any size. A clay figure you can hold in your hand can be reproduced, molded and cast into a larger than life sized bronze. This innovation, into which Luker and Bayne have poured a stream of revenue, opens new horizons of dimension and scale for the artists they work with.
Large pieces, like the Riderless Horse by Sedona sculptor James Muir that’s now in the shop, can be broken down into 100 or more separate castings that then are welded together and ground to an even finish.
“Over the years, we’ve put an exorbitant amount of money into the process,” Luker says. “You don’t see any Porsches out front” because so much of the profit has gone into improving the product.
They made their cauldron, for example, that heats up to 275 pounds of bronze to 1850 degrees F. for casting, so that it tilts to pour the molten metal. It’s a safer and far more efficient process than having workers use separate crucibles to lift hot metal from the cauldron to the mould.
Luker got hooked on the work while attending the University of Memphis as a graphic design major. “I took a sculpture elective and that was the end of that,” he says. “I just have to metal. It’s forever.”
Bayne loves “the craftsman’s aspect of the work, the sense of it being hand done.”
And then there’s that aspect of flirting with the gods. A wood worker might think in terms of a generation or two, a painter of 100 years or more and a mason even longer than that. But to those like Luker and Bayne, who work in bronze, it’s forever.