Sculptures That Move

zephyrArtist Chris Cole channels his two decades of experience as a bike mechanic into creating unique sculptures made from metal bits, including used bicycle components. Chris collects refuse from bike shops, along with bits from automobiles and farm equipment, and uses the material to build his magnificent creations. All of Chris’s sculptures move, either driven by small motors or by hand cranks.

I asked Chris how he started making these amazing sculptures that flap their wings, wriggle as if swimming, or spin mesmerisingly: “I’d have to say it started when I was a kid. I guess I was 10 years old; I used to take apart my battery powered toys, take out the motors and make little winches with the motor, rubber bands and strings to lift my candy, Matchbox cars, etc. I was also taking bikes apart (mine, my brother’s, the neighbors’) just to see how they worked—typical kid stuff. I wasn’t too concerned about getting them put back together, until I got a job at a local discount store building bikes.”

Fast forward to the adult version of Chris, working as a bike mechanic, and still full of tinkering instincts. “I’ve worked in lots of shops and worked on obscenely expensive bikes with the latest and supposedly greatest parts, and I’ve worked on hunks of shit. Spending so many years in the industry lead to a garage filled with bike tools and an understanding of how all the parts work.”

Then one fateful day while window-shopping, everything clicked into place. “I always wanted to be an artist, I’ve been painting since high school, but I didn’t realize the connection between art and my obsession with machines until I was in my mid 20s. I was living in Seattle with my girlfriend (now wife) and walked by a window with a small sculpture of a toy airplane sliding over a washboard. As we stared at it, my girlfriend asked how it worked. I explained that it was a really simple little motor and lever-arm, and I realized for the first time that I could combine my love of machines and my desire to be an artist.”

Chris dove into his artistic obsession, headfirst. “Within a year I was chopping apart one of Cannondale’s earliest (and possibly the worst) rear suspension bikes (you know, no front shock, only a rear coil spring and pivot point). I robbed the motor from an old turntable (things that spin really are an obsession of mine) and spent every evening and day off working on “Life Behind Glass.” It must have taken me almost six months. I didn’t have real metal working tools; I was working in a carport, or the kitchen when it was raining too hard. My wife and I didn’t have extra money for me to spend on machined parts, so I just started digging through the garbage at work. I was working at Cyclotopia in Corvallis, OR and my bosses were very supportive, pointing out parts that might be salvageable. It was big deal for me to order the bottle of bearings that cover the bottom of the sculpture. Now, I keep it around to remind me of my early struggles. The process now is so much more refined. I have more tools, more space, and an overwhelming supply of old parts.”

Chris has as website where you can learn more about him, his sculptures and his paintings. Click on the thumbnails below to view larger images of his sculptures. The video below shows his sculpture “Zephyr” in action.

– Karl Rosengarth

A Fish A Fish Detail salmon salmon mouth zephyr zephyr detail life behind glass