Made On Earth — Tools of Artistry

Craft & Design


For artist Chris Bathgate, the learning process is his creative process. His intricate sculptures showcase the perfection of metal and the nuts and bolts of machining. Each one takes countless hours of turning and milling bar stock into something that defies age and the touch of the human hand.

“The process of learning has been my biggest source of inspiration,” Bathgate says. “So you could say a lot of my visual ideas are spawned by the act of machining itself.”

But he wasn’t always a machinist. After a brief stint in art school, he “got a job and just started buying tools … once I bought my first small milling machine and realized the potential for making some very precise and interesting works, I was hooked.” He polished his craft with manual tooling before teaching himself CAD and making the switch to CNC machines.

A true maker, he builds many of his tools from scratch. “In addition to the multiple machine tools I’ve built,” says Bathgate, “I have built countless fixtures, jigs, hand tools, digitally operated kilns, set-up apparatuses, electroplating tanks, anodizing equipment, and many other thingamajigs in between.”

And making the machines has profoundly affected his work. While he’s not above mining existing parts for metal he admires — such as recycling copper cores from a linear accelerator’s scrap bin for their luminous oxygen-free alloy — he never uses preexisting shapes (“they tend to have their own visual references and meanings”). He’s also started making detailed CAD drawings of each piece, whether the parts were originally designed in CAD or just evolved on the mill or lathe.

But what are these unique hunks of metal? Futuristic visions? Alien creatures? “Viewers tend to take away from my work what they bring to it, [but] I strive to keep my work in that vast gray area where it never quite becomes anything specific,” says Bathgate. “I feel it is far more interesting that way.”

Mental Metal:

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