In 1976, Clayton Bailey made a robot costume when he worked as a barker for his tongue-in-cheek Wonders of the World Museum in Port Costa, Calif. By way of necessity or chance, he says, “I became a robot myself … and it just snowballed from there.”
Since then, Bailey has made about 100 life-sized robot sculptures, all carefully constructed from found objects whose previous incarnations contribute something unique. For over 30 years, he’s been collecting battery-powered toys, discarded home appliances, sports equipment, and bicycle and car parts from flea markets and scrap metal yards.
“I started making them with ceramics, but it was too heavy and difficult to make large robots, so I switched to aluminum that can be cut with tinsnips and hacksaws,” he says. “I get a kick out of figuring out how to put them together with rivets, nuts, and bolts. [This] is a kind of figurative sculpture. You
create a character.”
These characters aren’t just visual — some are semi-functional. While they aren’t likely to clean your house or engage in meaningful dialogue, they are endowed with components such as blinking eyes, flapping metal wings, “high-voltage mercury vapor-powered digestive tracts” and “shiny breasts tipped with blinking rubber nipples.”
Sparky Robot relates through electronic meters and is powered by an ordinary 110-volt AC wall plug. Starbot provides news and entertainment via AM/FM radio and a stereo tape deck. Giant Metal Robug’s appendages move in the wind to discourage garden pests. Marilyn Monrobot “has traveled around the world as a goodwill ambassador and a beauty queen for the robot revolution,” not to mention being corrosion-resistant, fireproof, and unbreakable.
Bailey lists Mad magazine and the Johnson Smith Company as two notable influences, and it’s easy to see a similar playfulness in his own work. On his website you’ll find more of his creations plus his Studio Cam, which tracks his daily progress from inside the workshop.