Copper in the Arts

August 2014

Form Meets Function for Copper Furniture Artist TJ Volonis

By Jennifer Hetrick

Copper piping chairCopper piping chair by TJ Volonis.
TJ Volonis studied Japanese language and literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After graduating, he moved to New York City and had a roommate who had dumpster-dived for a coffee table.

Years later, that coffee table became his to keep, and he built a new base for it using copper tubing, having always admired copper before he first worked with it.

The coffee table’s success at Volonis’ hands happened in 2001. Giving it a second chance made him begin to see the value in visualizing furniture that served as art as well as a seat or a place to rest a steaming mug of coffee.

A chair made of copper piping came next. And eventually benches and more tables.

“Living here in NYC, people are really strapped for space,” Volonis says. He likes that his furniture carries a purpose as well as an opportunity for conversation from those who are close to it.

“Pipe is a very accessible form of it,” he says about copper, which he sources from local hardware stores near his studio.

He also enjoys that what he studied in college filtered into his eventual artwork through Japanese aesthetics sometimes influencing his creations.

Most recently, he’s been using end caps to pipes, soldered together in the middle, standing them up in the patterns he develops. Pieces in a series called Stump Speech, traced to scale into a mimicking shape, from the stump of a tree in Prospect Park, offer what he calls a commentary on natural destruction by human hands.

“It’s always changing,” he says about what kinds of pieces he likes to do best. “Right now, I’m really fascinated by the bullet style using the end caps, almost doing a pixilated version of natural forms.”

Copper piping wall sculptureCopper piping wall sculpture by TJ Volonis.

Volonis describes some of his pieces as maze-like and complex. While certain ones are more straightforward and simplistic, others carry a chaotic rhythm of beauty to them.

“Everything around us is a balance of order and chaos,” he reflects. Tying this view into his furniture reminds him of replicating the habits of the world in a way that helps us to better see and understand the processes going on around us and how they affect us.

Designing chairs that act as focal pieces but can be useful as seats in an apartment or a shop has come to make the clearest of sense to Volonis, around pursuing wall art.

“I didn’t need a lot of special machinery to cut it,” he says about part of why he enjoyed teaching himself how to work with copper years ago.

Volonis will be a part of Arts Gowanus Open Studios 2014 in Brooklyn, which is slated for October 17 through 19. The event features artists who do their work in buildings that once served as factories or warehouses; the artists open their doors to the community for this autumn weekend.

Once, Volonis received an email from a pipe fitter in Ireland who had stumbled across his art online and just wanted to let him know that he loved what he had seen.

“It comforts you, and there’s a familiar feel to it,” Volonis adds about copper and part of why it’s so alluring as his metal of choice. Copper's radiance, warmth, verdigris possibilities and conductive and molecular properties also play a role in why he finds himself gravitating to it above all else.

Resources:

TJ Volonis, Brooklyn, NY, (347) 249-0283

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