Raw, Real and the Art of Patina
by Roy Mackey
I have to say I am a total fan of raw, real and the art of patina. A lot of that is summed up in the tool shown above. This bench grinder from the mid twenties has taken on a patina that only time can create. Old paint, chips, scratches and rust that have mixed to create a timeless and ever improving patina. It would take something pretty extreme to ruin this finish and it just keeps getting better with age. Each scratch, scrape and nick has some kind of story written up in it. Most we will never know but there story is still there.
This is a huge improvement over the typical brass and glass patina's of a lot of modern junk. The trouble with them is one scratch and the thing looks like a dead fish with a contagious skin disease. Thus off to the landfill it goes.
Here was my first serious run in with raw, real and the art of patina. This gem is a 1948 Triumph 500 Speed Twin. Up until finding this beauty back in 1980 or so I was mostly a chrome and paint type of guy. That changed after buying this beast. This gem was the ultimate rat bike way back before rat bikes really got popular. How it got this great a patina was a bit of a story. Mr. John Soles bought this bike off his brother. It got flopped on it's side once and burst into flames. The fire burnt every flammable thing off the bike from the leather on the seat to the tires. Mr. Soles then put on new tires, wires and welded some steel plates on the back for running boards. After that the bike sat outside for thirty years next to his bulk fuel tanks. Those thirty years of mountain air gave it a perfect finish. A few weeks after finding this beast I bought it off John for $250. At the time I wanted it for parts but after getting it home decided to try sparking it up. Sure enough it ran and was a pure pleasure to ride. Partly because of the spring hub which is real strange.
Anyway I quickly decided to insure this gem and ride it for the summer which I did. It was the funnest most laid back motorcycle I have ever ridden. It would cruise along nicely at around 55mph. I never once worried about it getting rained on, catching fire or getting dirty. (it caught fire often) Rain and mud only made it look better. Unlike other motorcycles I had before and after this one never required make-up. No waxing and polishing every time I wanted to take it out for a ride. When ever I stopped this bike for more than five minutes crowds would gather around in amazement. Unfortunately a few years later I let this love of my life slip through my hands but it did teach me something valuable. That was having sex with your girlfriend, partner or significant other is a lot more fun than talking about it to your buddies. To me high maintenance chrome and paint finishes were like "talking to your buddies" It was often a compete and compare game. With this though it was just pure riding with no one to compete and compare with.
The experiences I had with this bike taught me that I needed to create the same feel when it came to my art. The "patina" front to back has to match and be coherent. Now even though one will never see the back of a piece the "patina" there has to match. The reason being is patina has a vibe that you may not see but can feel if you are sharp. It gives the piece a completed sense. Anything less would be like putting a shiny new chrome bolt on the bike above. It would stand out like a sore thumb. It creates a conflict in the piece. A lot of artists miss that when scrambling to get more work done.
Raw and real explains why I almost never use clear plastic finishes on any of my work. I want the surface to be alive still. Not buried under plastic to protect it like a child trapped in a plastic tent to avoid "germs" I coat all my work with a special wax finish that lets the life of the piece come through. Because of this my works are not designed for outdoors. A lot of people assume that because I work in steel that it is suitable for the outdoors which is not the case. All my works, 2 and 3D are designed for indoors only.
I also strive for a level of raw and roughness in my work. This is what gives it the longevity it has. A scratch on a high gloss painting can ruin it but a scratch on one of these works can often give it more character. At the very least not quite so devastating. Often when working a piece getting a feel and patina that matches the power and feel of the above bikes patina is the hardest part.
Now though this raw and real feel is vital to me when it comes to my artwork it has become just as vital for my welding area here in our studio. In fact it has almost turned into an art project in itself. This of course is typical of what happens when you are a little obsessive. My goal for these last few years has been to create that raw, real feel with all my tools also. Now since you cannot do that near as easily with new tools I had no choice but to turn to vintage tools. Eventually I sold off almost all my new tools and replaced them with vintage ones. No plastic, no faux finishes, no chrome plated plastic that does nothing. Just real simple function that works better than new for only a fraction of the cost. This regulator above is a prime example. Newer regulators thanks to a lot of plastic feel sharp and warm in your hands. These feel cold, solid, heavy and smooth! The gauge faces are real glass that has been beveled. If you have an feel for detail then vintage tools win out by far.
Now even though I love the vintage feel it does not mean I am down on chrome and shiny paint. It is just the worry free pleasure of using things with a raw and real finish is really sweet. It creates a feeling of lasting stability in our modern lives that is extremely refreshing. It is also grounding. Years ago people got a phone from the phone company once... forty years later they got it repaired. Then they phoned someone and talked to them about something more serious than some new phone's new options.
Now this may not all be bad but I have said for years that most of the really earth shattering inventions were done from 1880is to 1950ish. Think about it prior to this time period if you told someone we were going to fly or be able to talk to our friends from half way around the world they would have locked you up. Photography, cars, airplanes, rockets, telephones, tv's and yes sorry to disappoint you but even microwave ovens...1945 was the actual patent date. These were all serious inventions that rated up there with discovering the earth was round. iPhones though nice are just a smaller version of a telephone and tv mixed together. We all strut around these days like we are really smart yet what have we invented after 1950 that was so great. Ok any normal computer tecky would bark out the computer and internet and yes... kind of. But seriously is it not much more than a modified tv that lets you insert the programing through a modified typewriter? Sure it has great benefits to offer mankind but that does not make it earth shattering. Earth shattering is finding out the earth is round not flat or man can fly. Now if someone invented a teleporter that we could use to go anywhere in the world in seconds now that would be something up there matching airplanes and telephones. Some famous guy lately said something about the only thing that has been invented lately are things that allow us to watch more and buy more junk!!!
Lately it really does seem that we are only tweaking and fine tuning junk that was invented over sixty years ago. A lot of people in some high places seem to think that is a problem. Others selling all that ego boosting junk don't think so though.
Now this does all tie in with real raw patinas. New trucks these days look big, tall and tougher than ever. That is until you bump into some tall grass that flakes the chrome off that plastic bumper. That is when reality sets in. I know someone who had a flat tire on his truck once. This was a few years ago when the fake junk was just grabbing hold of consumer wallets. He got out wheel wrench in hand to loosen the wheel nuts. The first one broke right off so he tried the second one. Sure enough it broke right off. Then the same with the third lug!!! It was then that he noticed that these were the fake lugs on the hubcap and not the actual wheel nuts. This proves a couple of things. First and most obvious is that drinking and driving don't mix. Second is things aren't always what they seem. I guess it also boils down to the question is the boning I am getting costing me more than the bone I bought? Sometimes it might pay to realize that asking McDonalds for nutritional advice might not be the best. Mostly because real is not real any more. Except of course for real vintage and raw metal art made with real steel, real copper, thousands of degrees of real heat created by real tools made with real materials designed to last a lifetime. The only trouble these days is real costs too much money for the average consumer hence artificial vanilla, artificial flavors and artificial intelligence. On top of that real is dangerous, fun and delicious!