Where others see trash, Adam Oldre sees potential: plastic bags become rings, zippers turn into bracelets and dated brass platters are transformed into striking hollow vessels.
Oldre, 29, developed an affinity for art in childhood, but his passion for metals didn’t emerge until years later, when he learned to forge and solder in an art class at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Though he often skipped out on his general education classes, he could be found in the studio late into the night, perfecting his craft and creating the works that would earn him the Anita Malin award from the La Crosse Society of Arts & Crafts and the UW-L Ruth Ann Knapp and Catherine Crail art awards. After having to defer the invitation twice, he is scheduled to participate in the American Concern for Artistry and Craftsmanship’s ACAC Annual Craft and Fine Art Festival in New York, a prestigious juried show
A former mechanic, Oldre has always considered himself a “hands-on” person, and works almost exclusively with reclaimed and recycled materials purchased from thrift stores and yard sales, as well as stocking up on odds and ends at the Habitat Restore, where he works in donation pick up. He fashioned a metal bookcase into a ventilation hood in his rented basement studio, and re-purposed bits of a sewing machine into a hammering tool, both used in his multi-step vessel-making process.
“I like taking things apart,” Oldre said. “Getting comfortable with the materials is important. The shapes just kind of go wherever the material takes me.”
Oldre is one of “only a handful” of artists who specialize in double-walled, hollow-ware vessels.
“I happened to stumble upon that style, and it was aesthetically pleasing to me,” Oldre said.
His signature works are composed of three sheets of brass or copper, hammered out from plates or dishes, annealed in a flame and pounded — techniques similar to those used by medieval blacksmiths to construct suits of armor. The separate shapes are then sanded, soldered together and buffed. Start to finish, each work can take upwards of 40 hours of labor. Though the process is routine, the results are always unique. Heating and oxidation impart distinctive patinas and varied speckles and waves of color onto the metal. Some take on a sheen and others have the matte appearance of rock. Oldre often leaves imperfections in the metals, such as nail holes, raised patterns and hammer indentations, or fits in zippers to create interest. While appearing deceptively substantial, the completed works are light in weight.
“People tend to think they’re ceramic,” Oldre said. “They’re surprised. I want to show these forms are complex — made from things that had a previous life to them.”
Melted plastics are a new medium for Oldre, who started experimenting with melted grocery bags and plastic utensils, using the texture to emboss designs onto his vessels and fashioning jewelry. Other recent ventures include functional brass cup and straw sets, uncanny to those from fast food restaurants, and novel belt buckles.
Oldre is assiduous in growing his repertoire, and admires a range of artists, including sculptor Lee Bontecou, metalsmith David Huang and painter Edward Munch.
“I won’t limit myself to looking at just metalsmiths and blacksmiths,” Oldre said. “There are so many other things you can look at and get inspiration from. I’m always trying to advance my skills.”
Oldre is putting long hours in his studio in preparation for the ACAC show in June, and is excited for the opportunity to expand his audience and gain recognition in the art world.
“I’m hoping to make art a full-time job,” Oldre said. “I know that metals is going to be my future.”