January 29, 2012

Artist interview: Kyle Fokken

Artist Kyle Fokken incorporates tinplate into his mixed-media sculptures. Thanks, Kyle, for answering our questions about your work and your approach.


Uptet (Babylonian Gunship), mixed media, 2008. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How would you describe your work in general?
I describe my work as modern folk-art sculpture combined with toy-inspired, three-dimensional collage. In shorthand, I refer to them as ‘toys.’

Can you talk about how you use tinplate (tin cans or other) in your work?
I use tinplate primarily where I want to add a graphic or textural element without doing it myself. The graphic conveys an antique feel to the piece. I also use tin cans in an entirely different way, using found objects when they fit the piece. I usually use the corrugated edges. Since there isn’t much usable corrugation on them, I often have to save enough cans for an anticipated piece. Because there are different widths of corrugations for different types of cans, I keep track so that can I consistently buy the right brands. Depending on the application, the cans can be painted, rusted, or left in their naturally shiny state.

Enno, mixed media, 1999. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How do you source your materials?

I find a lot of my materials in second-hand stores, in the housewares section. A lot of the TV trays in the style of the ones that my grandmother had in the 60s are the best, but I do occasionally find a cookie tin or embossed tissue cover that works well too. Cans, on the other hand, are everywhere.
Another material I use a lot is the corrugated tin of rural steel mailboxes. I try to buy them on sale at the local big-box hardware store. I use them because the lines of the beads in the metal are closer together and the scale seems to fit some pieces better.

Church Crane (closeup), mixed media, 2010. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How do you get inspiration/ideas?

I grew up a poor kid in a small, rural town and I loved working on model-airplane kits. But, once completed, I didn’t have money to purchase a new kit. So, to entertain myself, I’d make dioramas that featured flak damage, broken landing gear, or other evidence of wear and tear. Since the kits didn’t include these elements, I had to find materials from my own environment that I could reshape into the part I wanted to mimic. Also, growing up in a rural town, I was close to all the various types of farm equipment that were out there, so I saw a lot of form-following-function in it’s rawest form.

Difficult to Fathom, mixed media, 2011. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How did you initially become involved in/interested in art/craft?

Both of my parents are what I consider to be untrained artists, even though they wouldn’t say so. My mother, who is more the drawing-and-painting type, was my primary influence. She bought me a sketchbook once and would secretly draw studies of facial features for me to copy. The next day after school there’d be another “assignment” for me to copy. It really helped me understand how to construct these features and make my own drawings. My father was never an art advocate but, while unemployed during the 1980s farm crisis, he made a series of wooden wall-relief pictures. Most were of the farmstead where he grew up or places he knew as a boy. He even traded one to the local phone company when we couldn’t pay the long overdue bill. So I benefit by getting the more organic (human) side from my mother and the more inorganic (mechanical) side of the artist’s craft from my dad.

Danje with Trellis (rear view), mixed media, 2007. Courtesy K. Fokken.

How do you cut your metal?

Almost all my work in tinplate is done with a snips. For larger or thicker pieces, I’ll use an electric ‘nibbler’ to cut curves, or I use a steel-cutting upright bandsaw or a jigsaw. A lot of times, it’s a matter of roughing out the shape, then putting it on the grinder and the belt sander.

Can you tell us more about your patina process?

I use multiple methods to patina my work. The most common is a thick wash of ivory-black and raw-umber acrylic paint. I use this to age the work, but also to unify it and bring all the color values together. This way, elements that are old and new can exist in the same ‘time’ together. It also helps hide errors and lets me highlight various components. I typically lay down a wash over a big section, let it dry a bit, then wipe or buff areas that I want to highlight. I do this several times to achieve a layered affect that feels more natural, as if the piece were subjected to sporadic use over the decades.
I also use chemical processes to age the metal. The best method for the tin cans is to burn them in my Weber grill with a lot of cheap paper, then spray them with a saline solution. This and time help to develop a rust patina. I have also found that you can make a ‘pit fired’ patina with colors ranging from blues and purples, to brown and glossy black. I usually use glossy magazines or newspaper advertisements to achieve this effect.

Ship of Fools, mixed media, 2009. Courtesy K. Fokken.

To learn more and see more of Kyle’s work (including some great process photos), visit his site!

One Response

  1. EeeGee says:

    Excellent interview and really nice pieces! I’m a big fan of the Device Gallery in San Diego, and am glad to see that Kyle’s projects will make it out here in the future so I can see them up close.

    Tinplate Girl continues to create a body of interviews, projects and tutorials that are useful and interesting. I will recommend to other modelers and artists.

    Thank you.

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