Copper in the Arts

March 2009

Andy Brinkley: Fusing Nature into Metal

By Janie Franz

Andy Brinkley Andy Brinkley in his studio.

Courtesy Andy Brinkley Studio
Deep in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, artist Andy Brinkley translates the natural world around him with an oxygen-acetylene torch and a pile of soft metals. Brinkley grew up near Roanoke, Virginia, but has made his home and workplace six miles from Hickory, North Carolina. That rustic landscape has provided Brinkley with artistic inspiration for over thirty years.

"I enjoy nature and the hikes and the birds and all of the things that go with it," Brinkley says. Naturally, cattails, fish, frogs, birds, and trees are found in his work, which is a mix of the delicate and the fanciful.

Brinkley began his exploration of metal, not in an art school studio, but under the tutelage of two old-time, North Carolina mountain blacksmiths.

"I really, really loved watching them work and seeing what they could do three-dimensionally with just a bar of iron or steel," Brinkley recalls. "I bought a forge and began working at it. To me, though, something was missing-- the color and texture of non-ferrous metals. So, I began to incorporate a lot of that into some of the simpler sculptural blacksmithing I was doing." His new love of softer metals drew him completely away from iron and the forge.

Copper was his first metal of choice because of the patina nature brought to the metal. But when heat was applied, a whole new world of possibilities opened up.

"All of those red colors!" Brinkley exclaims. This drew him to copper alloys, which afforded a wider range of color. "I'll use brass and bronze for color accents that I need in a particular piece," he says, and ones that he can't get from copper alone. "Different kinds of metals are used in combination for different colors and textures." These he joins with silver solder and phosphorous copper solder.

At first, Brinkley bought sheet copper directly from the copper mills in Buffalo, NY, but that changed about a decade ago, and he's had to buy from local copper distributors who sell to roofers and heating/air conditioning contractors. The bar stock that he uses comes from a national company, which is the source for it now, and his tube copper comes directly from his local plumbing supply dealer.

Frog Saxophone Frog playing saxophone Garden sculpture.

Courtesy Andy Brinkley Studio

With these, Brinkley creates wall sculptures, table art pieces, fountains, and garden art. One of the first places his garden art was displayed was at the Wild Bird Center in Manlius, NY.

"Fifteen years ago, I designed a line of bird houses and bird feeders for some of the wild bird centers all over the country," Brinkley recalls. He created a sculpture of a standing frog using a pair of binoculars so that the New York center could guide visitors to their binocular department. "I had such a huge reaction to that that I began doing other frogs." He has since created a whole line of garden art that includes frogs fishing, gardening, or playing musical instruments. Though he doesn't make bird feeders and birdhouses any more, many of the wild bird centers still sell his bird watcher frogs, and orders keep coming in.

Brinkley's frog sculptures don't impress everyone, however. He once brought one into a sculpture seminar he was taking. "The instructor's only remark was: 'There's nothing funny about art,'" Brinkley recalls. "I knew right then that I was at the wrong place! There's something funny about almost everything." Brinkley's sense of humor and love of life infuses his art. Even his wall sculptures of trees whose delicate leaves seem able to flutter in a southern breeze are imbued with a joy that comes from deep within the artist and shows his keen observational sense.

Not lacking admirers, Brinkley's work has been displayed in galleries in the region, as well as in New York, California, and Florida, and adorns corporate offices, doctor's waiting rooms, hospitals, clinics, large retirement centers, and residential homes. Custom orders also make up a large part of Brinkley's artistic sales.

Brinkley is assisted by Ken Edgar and Mark D. Shrum, two skilled craftsmen, who keep the production work going at the busy Andy Brinkley Studio, while Brinkley works on custom pieces and creates new originals. Brinkley's wife runs the Jacob Fork Gallery, Brinkley's showroom and gallery for the work of about 200 different artists. Still, Brinkley manages to take a hike into the nearby hills, looking for new ideas to bring to his work.

Resources:

Andy Brinkley Studio, 5810 Walnut Grove Lane, Hickory, NC, (704) 462-1137

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