Texture-Vector-Volume: My spring solo show

The House on Main, in Royal Oak, was a great location for my solo show.

The House on Main, in Royal Oak, was a great location for my solo show.

In my last post, I discussed the importance of finding a few key people who will make a difference in your journey as an emerging artist. For me, one of these people has been Judy Weiner, owner of House on Main, in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Judy was interested in buying a few of my decor pieces to sell in her clothing and jewelry boutique. A few days later I showed up with a black wire bowl containing three colorful balls. Dressed with impeccable style and an eccentric flair, I could tell right away that Judy was a woman of taste. Not that I understand women’s fashion (or men’s fashion, for that matter), but let’s just say I could tell we would get along.

Judy Weiner in her boutique, the House on Main.

Judy Weiner in her boutique, the House on Main.

As I got ready to leave I was already thinking about how I’d word the Instagram post; “I just got my stuff in another store! #kickass.” That’s when Judy extended an unexpected offer. She wanted to clear out a large part of the store to make room for my own solo art show. Sure, it may not have been a designated “gallery,” but any space becomes a gallery if you just have some art, and an opening night with wine. I’d be free to choose the date, and we could leave the exhibition up for two weeks (now extended to three). I was at once ecstatic about the offer, while a little bit hesitant to take her up on it. It had been a year since my Annex Gallery opening, and I had new work to show, but my plate was/is already stacked with other projects. While this show would be much smaller, I just wasn’t sure I had the energy for it. 

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After thinking it over a couple weeks, I realized I’d be crazy not to seize the opportunity. It’s a hip location with a lot of foot traffic, and pretty close to my house. When Judy floated the possibility of my doing a large, outdoor installation right on the front lawn, that sealed the deal. 

By the time June 8 rolled around, I had made about 20 large MIG wire balls and had them powdercoated to withstand the elements. Ten of these would make a pyramid to be placed outside the Dexter Public library, and I would take the others to the House on Main.

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Besides the large outdoor balls, the main pieces I was working on for this show were a series of display stands that would support some wire bowls I had already made. These twelve stands are tripod designs made from carbon fiber and/or aluminum arrows joined in severals different ways, each designed slightly differently. A few feature my old broken drum cymbals, a theme that resurfaces from time to time in my artwork. Some use a brass or aluminum plate, intersected by the arrows. I spent a lot of time on these stands in order to come up with clean looking designs that could support reasonable loads, and could be taken down and reassembled without the use tools or extra hardware. This was not simply for the convenience of whoever might buy them. I wanted a hassle-free, portable art show setup that required minimal space. The result is something not unlike the wire bowls they support; fragile in appearance but reasonably durable and versatile. Arrow sections of various lengths can be swapped out (or cut down) to achieve a desired height. Threaded field points (archery term) are screwed into the bottom pieces so the stands can be pushed down into the grass at outdoor art shows. Who wants to lug around bulky pedestals or heavy display stands? Now, I can fit everything I need (besides the art itself and my tent) into a bag or tube that ends up weighing mere ounces, not pounds. Talk about efficient!

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The opening at the House on Main went great, and I sold a bowl/stand combo. I noticed that the stand itself was not sitting level, and at first I thought that was due to the old, uneven floor, but upon further inspection I realized that one of the tripod legs was shorter than the other two. I took the stand home and made a few adjustments to make everything square, and touched up the arrows and center brass piece with steel wool just to make sure the customer was 100% satisfied when he picked it up.

Big thanks to everyone who came to the opening, and especially to Judy, for giving me the opportunity to show my work in a great space!

Clicks, likes and shares are great, but emerging artists need champions of their work

Jimi points at the first light I put in his salon. I later replaced it with something bigger and better.

Jimi points at the first light I put in his salon. I later replaced it with something bigger and better.

One of the only things that feels better than meeting a person who wants to buy your art is meeting a person who puts you in position to sell more of your art. Customers are great, but emerging artists need true champions of their work. You might find one on Facebook or Instagram, and when you do you’ll realize just how useless everyone else on those platforms actually are to you (and also why it’s still worth it to have a social media presence). More than likely, you’ll come into contact with your true supporters — your champions — the same old-fashioned way I did, by pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, doing art fairs and basically getting away from the computer and out into the world. People don’t like to hear this advice because it’s usually easier facing rejection online than in-person. And you will experience rejection. I look at it this way; The number of times you fail is not an indicator of how bad your work is, but rather how resilient and persistent you are in the face of failure. Success will come when you least expect it.

A champion is not the same as a patron; He or she doesn’t have to be a person with vast financial resources or connections (although that certainly helps). A champion is someone who believes in your work enough to do more than simply share your Facebook page or like your Instagram photos. This person goes out of their way to help further your career, or does a few small things that make a big difference in the way you operate. Maybe it’s free studio space, or a place to store your expanding inventory of artwork. A great example of this was when Seabrook Satterlund, owner of Whiski Kitchen Design Studio, lent me a trailer so I could transport my outdoor installation to the Dexter public library, which saved me a lot of money and time.

This floor lamp design features an EDM wire shade that hangs directly on a large Edison bulb.

This floor lamp design features an EDM wire shade that hangs directly on a large Edison bulb.

A champion talks about your work, and promotes you as an up-and-comer. Even a storeowner or gallery curator can be a champion. I would argue dealers aren’t doing their job if they are anything less. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but one that can be tested over time.

Anyone who agrees to sell your work doesn’t automatically gain champion status. After six months, have any sales been made? How prominently is your work displayed? Does your stuff appear on the store’s website or social accounts?

After two decades at this great downtown Royal Oak location, Jimi had to shutter Palazzolo salon in the Spring of 2018.

After two decades at this great downtown Royal Oak location, Jimi had to shutter Palazzolo salon in the Spring of 2018.

There are exceptions to everything, though. Jimi Palazzolo, a Michigan salon owner was one of the first important champions of my work, yet I never made a single sale through him. Why does he matter so much? For starters, he was the first person to let me hang big light fixtures in his store, located on a busy street in downtown Royal Oak. Instantly I got tons of exposure, and a lot of great photos. So what, you say? Might seem like a bad deal; Jimi gets a bunch of cool lights and decor for free, and all I get upfront are the photos. But good product images are more important than ever, and it’s damn hard to convince anyone your work is gaining momentum if all of your pictures were taken in the same dining room or kitchen (yours).

When you’ve spent months or years trying to get your art out in the world, only to have a lot of doors slammed in your face, it’s a huge confidence-builder when someone finally say “yes.” I believe there’s a Jimi Palazzolo out there for every persistent artist. The only question is, how much failure can you stomach before you find him? Only you know the answer. If you’re struggling right now, hang in there and believe in yourself. Believe in your work. Leave yourself available to possibility, to opportunity, to old fashioned good luck, and when one door closes, another one will open. 

Public art opportunities are everywhere, and I just took advantage of one!

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Public art is part of a civilized society

In the strictest sense, “public art” denotes an artwork paid for by tax money. But art in public spaces—parks, airports, shopping malls, schools, hospitals—may also be funded by private or corporate grants. Wherever the money is coming from, there are some basic commonsense rules one has to consider when submitting a proposal for a public art piece; It has to be family friendly. It has to be apolitical. It has to have the the proper mix of intrigue and beauty. It should require little to no maintenance. Outdoor pieces must be able to withstand the elements. Paintings, photography, fiber pieces or other two-dimensional art is often displayed in buildings with long corridors or spacious lobbies. Besides the obvious benefits of beautifying a particular space, unique works of art can also serve as landmarks for people navigating large or confusing buildings. No matter what language you speak, you’ll always remember to turn left at the giant purple goose.

Mike O'Reilly was one of three artists selected for Dexter, Michigan's 2019 Art Garden exhibition. This pyramid, made from powder coated steel wire balls, will be on display until June, 2020. It's located between the farmers market and the Dexter public library.

Outdoor Public Art

One source of inspiration for me has been an old college friend of mine, Josh Wiener, who has made a successful career out of building huge outdoor public artworks.  Check out his website.

One source of inspiration for me has been an old college friend of mine, Josh Wiener, who has made a successful career out of building huge outdoor public artworks. Check out his website.

The main hurdle I face when it comes to outdoor public art is the material I use. Brass and steel wire are prone to oxidization. For this reason most public art is made from either aluminum, copper or stone. Even plastics advertised as UV resistant can fade and degrade over decades. The powder coating process has been a real game-changer for the durability of my work, but it’s still possible for water to find its way to bare metal in places where wires have become separated, which is why, for now anyway, I’m reluctant to put the “Guaranteed Forever,” stamp on my outdoor pieces. Fortunately, many outdoor public art installations call for exhibition periods of one or two years. These opportunities usually mean a smaller paycheck for the artist, but it’s still a great way to give exposure to one’s work. Somebody might choose to purchase the piece, (assuming it’s for sale) and if not, it’s returned to the artist who can then make it available for another temporary installation. For less durable structures made from corrosion-prone materials, temporary outdoor public art installations allow for repairs or adjustments to the work before it’s moved to a new location.

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How to Find Public Art Opportunities

The best resource I’ve found for keeping abreast of the latest public art opportunities is Call For Entry. CAFE publishes a comprehensive list of RFPs (request for proposals), available grants, fellowships, contests, gallery shows and residencies. The project budgets are often listed right upfront, and some of them are shockingly robust. For example, I recently responded to an RFP for a new outpatient clinic, in Denver. The designated space was pretty small; a 10x10 ft. square on a wall, plus a short elevator lobby/hallway where a hanging piece could go. The budget for the space was $178,000, and I’ve seen budgets much larger, especially outdoor art projects where big money goes toward construction and engineering.

I am excited about the Dexter outdoor installation, but I’ll be turning my focus toward permanent indoor installations, which are better suited for the materials I work with. Keep an eye out for another post in which I discuss my process for creating digital renderings to accompany public art proposals.

Light up your dinning room or foyer with a custom chandelier by Brightwire Designs

Drawing for my “Boston Edison” design.

Drawing for my “Boston Edison” design.

Looking for something special to hang above your dining room table? This post is about the custom chandeliers I have made over the past few years.

Considering how many lights I’ve made recently, it’s surprising even to me how few of them are chandeliers. “Multi-bulb hanging lights,” is what I prefer to call them. “Chandelier” is too old-fashioned. The word itself is gaudy, dripping with phonetic crystals. It is however a little more economic and less technical than “multi-bulb hanging lights,” so I guess I’ll stick with it for this post.

I have beaten the garbage man to more than one curbside chandelier in my day, and most of those pieces I dismantled and scavenged for parts. Ironically, none of the custom chandeliers I have built actually incorporate any of those parts. The problem with accumulating scavenged parts is that it can lead to endless tinkering. And there’s a fine line between useful, creative design work and tinkering a good idea into oblivion. I usually spend way more time designing the structural support, the bones of the piece than I spend making what I consider the more beautiful parts. That’s probably the reason I don’t spend a lot of time chasing chandelier business. It’s too difficult to determine how long they will take for me to build, and I end up pricing them too low.    

My first custom chandelier was actually one of my first lights of any kind, and it hung over our dining room table for a long time. Looking closely you can see that the EDM wire I used is much more gray than the shiny silver stuff I currently use. That’s because it had been run through the EDM machine and dumped at the recycle center where I found it. It was basically very dirty. It also incorporates way more wire than I would use on a similar design, today.

My second chandelier is probably my favorite, and I’m calling it my “Boston Edison” style, because I made it for a home in Detroit’s historical Boston Edison neighborhood. The concept was simple; a long box shape whose four sides and top are panels — woven mats, really — of yellow brass wire. The challenging part was figuring out how to put it all together. My neighbor had given me four old brass table legs, and I put three of them to good use on this project. I used them to create an inverted T shape, joined in the center by some one-inch plumbing pipes, which remain hidden. Holes were drilled in the soft brass to run wires, and there are five bulbs total, providing ample dining room light, and complimenting the long rectangular table over which it hangs. You’ll also notice the use of a Zildjian cymbal for the ceiling plate. Being a drummer, I usually have a cracked cymbal or two laying around, and they have become sort of a trademark of my style wherever “upcycling” is involved. In addition to ceiling plates for pendants and chandeliers, I have used them as bases for table and floor lamps. 

For my third custom chandelier I finally got to make use of one of those five-bulb floor lamps people are always throwing away. These have about 18 inches of flexible metal conduit connecting each socket to the main body of the lamp. After removing the long main tube, I was left with a Medusa-like five-socket cluster as a starting point for my chandelier. My client, One Salon, in Novi, Michigan, was very happy with the final result, especially after changing the light bulbs from my original edison bulbs to LEDs. Check out the difference between the two!   

The owners of my fourth and most recent custom chandelier have been living with it less than a week, and I’ve heard no complaints so far. Without question, the easiest parts of this light to make were the silver and black balls. My original idea was to swag six wired sockets out and away from a center junction box, which would have required no hardware at all except for the ceiling plate and a nut to hold it in place. Then I got to thinking . . . and before I knew it I was designing hardware in my mind, then in real life. This project came to me just as I came off a month or so of building sculptures from carbon fiber arrows, and I couldn’t get those arrows out of my mind. The large diameter arrows I used for this chandelier are actually aluminum, not carbon fiber, but they are strong enough to support the relatively lightweight wire balls without bending. And the inside diameter of 3/8 in. was perfect for accepting the standard threaded conduit commonly used for lamps and chandeliers. The most difficult thing about this build was making sure all seven balls were hanging at the desired length, and that each bulb was centered in each ball. Maintaining balance was not that big of an issue. I simply made three weight-matched pairs of balls, and hung each ball directly across from its counterpart. The balls have no opening on the bottom, but are easily removed without tools when it comes time to change the bulbs, thanks to a handy little three-spoke doohickey I came up with, which I will describe in another post.

I said earlier I don’t spend a lot of time “chasing chandelier business,” but that was a lie. I chase all business. If you or someone you know needs a really cool custom chandelier, don’t forget about Brightwire Designs!

New Lighting Ideas for 2019

Vector Lights

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Some of the designs I came up with last year have led to cool and interesting new lighting ideas for 2019. The use of flat wire panels and the rods used to configure them, for example, got me wondering how these frame structures would look by themselves without the brass wire. I started with aluminum or brass plates to serve as the fixture base that could be easily connected to any standard threaded light socket or 3/8 inch threaded conduit. Then I drilled angled holes through the plates, through which brass or steel rods could be run at “vectors” of any length. The results were interesting, even if the holes were drilled somewhat at random, because multiple rods going in any direction will always create planes in space. I could then choose to delineate the planes using flat wire panels, or leave the structures as they were. Even though I’m not the first designer to use these minimal, scaffold-like structures for light fixtures, I haven’t seen any exactly like mine. This probably has to do with the fact that I don’t use a lot of precise engineering when it comes to taking measurements, making cuts, drilling holes etc. Often I don’t even have a clear picture of what I’m trying to make until the piece is halfway done. I rely mainly on figuring out a process of production, and the shape reveals itself somewhere along the way.

Carbon Fiber Lights

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One of my new lighting ideas for 2019 includes the use of carbon fiber. I’m attracted to interesting materials, especially materials I don’t see many people using. Lately I have been working with a bunch of broken carbon arrows I pilfered from the dumpster behind a local archery shop. I plan on purchasing some larger diameter carbon fiber tubes and seeing where that leads. Although I haven’t yet incorporated low wattage LED lights into any of my designs, I plan on using them inside some of the arrows I have left. I love how the carbon fiber weave has a textured appearance from some angles, and a wet, glossy look from other angles, all while being so smooth to the touch. And of course, it’s light, extremely strong, and reasonably easy to work with. I did find some very interesting carbon fiber lights made by a company called Tokio. Some of the Tokio designs are assembled from tubes or rods, but the most impressive shapes in their lineup are made with custom molds or forms, similar to the way carbon fiber auto body parts are manufactured. Tokio even makes a really cool carbon fiber lounge/couch, in three different sizes.

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Sconces

Wall sconces are a great luminary accent for any home, and my list of new lighting ideas for 2019 wouldn’t be complete without them. I kicked off the new year by installing a pretty cool one in my Mom’s house. The hardware was cheap, only $20 in the Home Depot discount bin. Like almost everything I buy at a retail store, I modified this fixture to work better with the rolled-up mat of brass wire I prepared. She was happy with the results, and I certainly plan on making more of these in the near future.

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Wire-Lined Wire Balls

Another new lighting idea for 2019 is a combination of two things I’ve been doing all along, but have never actually thought of until recently. This idea, to line a wire ball of one color, with wire of a different color, was inspired by one of my competitors in the Detroit Holiday Window Walk contest. Her version featured gold leaf inside plaster hemispheres, and it was a really cool look that reminded me of a broken egg. The only way for me to actually pull off a similar idea using a brass wire ball was to start with a powder coated ball. The powder coating would ensure that the structure would stay together after I cut it open with metal sheers. Look for more of these and a lot more, in 2019!







Adventures in light, art and decor: A 2018 recap

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2018 was a great year for Brightwire Designs. I developed a lot of new relationships, and I had my first gallery show, at the Annex Gallery. Although I didn’t do any art shows at all — the kind where you pay a hundred bucks to set up your tent among a million other artists on a rainy day in downtown Hipsterville — I managed to sell twice the amount of art I sold in 2017, when I schlepped my setup to half-a-dozen art extravaganzas. Most of them cost me more than I made, and I frequently returned exhausted, dejected, smelling of scented candles and roasted almonds... I did generate some good followup business from those shows, if not a lot of cash-and-carry sales. Honestly, I enjoyed meeting people and talking about my stuff, and figuring out which products and styles people are interested in.

Up until a few months ago the utility of my work was mostly limited to my lampshades and pendant fixtures. The division between lighting and art/decor is a clear one, in my mind. A sparkly wire ball is only a piece of art until you put a light in it, at which point it becomes a lampshade. It’s no longer art because it now has a utilitarian purpose. The misunderstanding around this concept is how terms like “functional art” have emerged. I don’t use that term. If I’m trying to develop a “product,” or something that can be mass-produced, I start off with prototypes. If I’m making something I won’t make exactly the same way, again, then I call it art. Unless, of course, I put a lightbulb in it. Then it’s a lampshade! There were three breakthroughs for me in 2018, all of which edged me closer to creating products that are as useful as they are beautiful.

MIG Welding Wire

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I was pretty excited to get into Franklin, Michigan’s Art in the Village show, in 2017, but I only made a couple sales that weekend. A couple months later, I got a phone call from a guy I never even spoke to at the show. He’d seen my stuff, grabbed a business card and kept moving. I told him upfront I had zero experience pulling off anything like what he was asking me to do, which was basically an applique of copper wire surrounding his massive fireplace. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t picture exactly how I’d secure the layers of wire directly to the wall, I had never worked with copper wire, except when using it as a temporary twist-tie for constructing various shapes. What I ended up using was not even copper wire as you would think of it, but a stiffer steel MIG welding wire with a copper plating. I came across it at a local welding supply store, and after the client approved it, I bought huge spool of the stuff. The client was happy with the end result of the project, as was I, although I can’t imagine being hired again to do another one of these. Who knows? Maybe MIG wire fireplace appliques will become a thing. Despite the seemingly obscure job I was hired to do, I have to thank my client; He pushed me to explore a new technique, but more important was my own discovery of MIG welding wire as a great material to work with. The stiff springiness of MIG wire allows me to create shapes similar to those I make from hard brass wire but at a much larger scale, which opens the door to many new artistic approaches and product ideas.

Powder Coating

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When I started making bowls out of brass wire people would ask, “Can use it for anything?” And I would basically shrug and say, “Sure, I can sell you some wire balls to go in it. Or the mail, perhaps.” I’m certainly not the first person to make and sell bowls not intended to hold anything. The market opens up considerably however, if you can guarantee your bowl will magically transform itself from a piece of art to an object of utility, simply by being stronger and more durable. The first bowl I brought to Supreme Welding and Powder Coating was small, only about ten inches wide by three inches deep, and weighed about 60 grams. After receiving a coat of black and cooked in a 400 degree oven for awhile, the bowl emerged completely different. It was solid enough to resonate slightly when I thwacked it with my finger as if all the layers of wire had become one. It was strong enough to hold a five pound dumbbell without bending. I was impressed. I could actually USE this bowl for something. I thought about how powder coating would be a game-changer, in ways I didn’t even fully understand, but was eager to find out. I thought about the other things I made and wondered what I should try next.

Perfect Panels

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I have spoken and written a lot about the material limitations of any artistic medium, and how I learned to work with the physical properties of brass wire. Early on in this journey I assumed everything I could make would strike a round, bulbous or at least curvy silhouette. And I was fine with that, until I found a way around it. The idea of doing panels didn’t come completely out of nowhere. Some of the other 3D shapes I’d done for a couple years had started out as flat mats of wire. Those mats, however, always had curved edges. They were either big ovals or odd, amoeba-shaped pieces. In order to create a faceted 3D shape from individual wire panels, I would have to figure out a way to transform the mats from shapeless blobs to perfect squares, rectangles, triangles etc., which I could then stitch together to make the 3D shape. My first really good example of this technique is hanging over the dining room table of a historical home, in Detroit’s Boston Edison district.

Now that my system is in place for creating geometrically perfect panels, I can bring to bear the other two “breakthrough” elements of 2018. A heavy duty panel made from MIG welding wire, for example, can be powder-coated for color and durability, and used for a variety of outdoor applications, which you can read about in my next post, probably called “New Products for 2019.”





2018 Detroit Holiday Window Walk Award Goes to Brightwire Designs

Mike O’Reilly stands in front of his 2018 Detroit Holiday Window Walk display, at Eatori Market.

Mike O’Reilly stands in front of his 2018 Detroit Holiday Window Walk display, at Eatori Market.

I was determined to win the 2018 Detroit Holiday Window Walk contest, and I worked for about two solid weeks constructing the components of my entry. After the first week, I trashed my first idea and started over. I also incorporated a powder coating treatment in the creation of the large black balls, which drastically improves the durability and overall look. Although I consider the entire process and final installation a great success, my efforts could muster only second place in the contest, with the top podium spot going to last year’s winner, Third Man Records. Congratulations to Campo Collective for their awesome winning entry!

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The Holiday Window Walk is a window design competition held by Lawrence Tech’s Detroit Center for Design and Technology, in collaboration with Prologue Detroit and ten participating downtown businesses. Artists and design teams submitted applications by early October, and the winning applicants were matched with a store, restaurant or salon. Window designs were completed by mid November, and the winners were announced December fourth. Votes were tabulated based on the opinions several individual judges in combination with the total number of social media posts for each window with the hashtag #holidaywindowwalk18. Up for grabs in this year’s contest was a first place prize of $500, and a second place prize of $250.

The 2018 Holiday Window Walk competition was a great experience, and I’m thrilled to take second place. My work will be on display through January. Next year I’m going for the gold!

EDM wire industry people got ahold of me for an interview

The following piece appears in the Fall issue of an EDM wire industry magazine, called EDM Today.

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A few months ago I was at the EDM Tech Center, in Minnesota, where I noticed a peculiar floor lamp in the lobby. It consisted of two bulbs inside two different shades, each made from sparkling gold EDM wire. I asked about the lamp, and was told it was made by a Michigan-based artist, named Mike O’Reilly. I had to track this guy down to get his story, and he was happy to tell it.

Couldn't do it without reliable contacts in the EDM wire industry

“I get great satisfaction by showing my work to people in the EDM industry, because you guys understand the properties of this material.” He told me. “Doesn’t matter if you’re into art, or not, EDM wire industry people see the technical reasons why brass wire works for what I’m doing, and why other kinds of wire don’t. I appreciate that, and I want to give a shoutout to Jerry Dillon, from EDM Tech Center, in Minnesota, and the guys down the street, at Belmont EDM. Both suppliers have been great to me, even though I’m not exactly their biggest customer.”

Mike O’Reilly grew up outside of Detroit, a place known for its creative spirit, and the infusion of that creativity into the cars and other products that made Motown an industrial success story. His Mom is an art school grad and former gallery owner, and his father is a film buff and businessman. The path O’Reilly has taken certainly resembles a combination of those traits, having started a backpack company, while earning his masters degree in creative writing, from the University of Utah. He’s a published author of poetry, screenplays and works of nonfiction. The creation of visual art, however, is new terrain for O’Reilly.

“I came across this stuff completely by accident, just a few years ago,” the 43 year-old recalls. “I didn't even know the EDM wire industry existed, until I saw a pile of used wire at the metal recycling center, and a flash went through my head. I looked at the way it was piled there, like human hair on a pallet, dirty but sparkling. I was struck by the fact there were no kinks in it. I scooped up a few pounds, and drove away with the feeling that this wire had some sort of art/design potential, I just didn’t know what it was. I really had no desire to get literally tangled up in a new hobby. “Wire art,” in general, didn’t even excite me. At first, my main motivated was the fact that I had never seen anything made out of brass wire. During that period, working with EDM wire was a frustrating puzzle. As I refined my technique, however, it became a relaxing way to spend my time.”

While O’Reilly uses an industrial material, the end result is distinct from what we’ve come to know as “industrial art.” There are no big machine gears or pipes, no jagged bits of glass, no big chunks of iron welded together. His process resembles something closer to that of a fiber artist, than a metalworker. He explains how his art became driven, not by his own creative visions, but by his bizarre fascination with a material that behaves in the exact opposite way you’d expect it to. For example, when soft copper is wrapped around object, and maintains the object’s shape, forces of compression are at play. EDM wire, however, when wrapped around an object will spring outward, resisting all curves and bends. 3D shapes made from hard brass wire are thus relying on forces of tension rather than compression to maintain their structure.

“The thing about copper or soft steel wire,” he says, “is that you can basically make any shape you want out of it. If you want a duck or a flower, you can take some pliers and make one. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m working within a different set of parameters and physical properties. Those rules are what I like about with EDM wire. At first I did some abstract stuff with the used wire I bought, but then I started buying brand new spools, and experimented with different alloys, diameters and brands. I went on a systematic, year-long quest to figure out an efficient process for working with EDM wire. Finally, I mastered a few fundamental techniques for making flat wire panels, spheres, bowls and tube shapes. Only then did I return to more abstract designs.”

Although O’Reilly sells his custom artwork under his own name, he created Brightwire Designs as a brand defined by two distinct catalogs; one featuring lighting products, and the other a collection of home decor pieces. O’Reilly works with different design groups for each product line. On the decor side of things, he’s represented by the Rita O’Brien Design Group, operating out of the Michigan Design Center. His lights can be found on display and purchased from Royal Oak, Michigan’s Whiski Kitchen design studio. 

Is Cindy Luna the original EDM wire artist?

My quest to find the first EDM wire artist

For the last couple of years, I have been telling people (in the most humble way possible), that I might be the only EDM wire artist, in the world. I knew I wasn't the first, having acknowledged the work of Judith Brust, but I could not find evidence of her working much with brass wire, after the early nineties. Then, as I typed this very post, I found her new website, which showcases her painting portfolio, as well as some large-scale EDM wire gallery installations. Not sure how recent that work is, but it's awesome. Judith Brust is definitely a next-level EDM wire artist.

Closing in on the most elusive EDM wire artist

Cindy Luna is more of a mystery. I was introduced to her work a couple months ago, after a North Carolina customer told me about her. He had assumed I knew her work, since mine was so similar. I immediately pulled up her website, and I was somewhat stunned by what I saw:

Decorative balls, made by EDM wire artist, Cindy Luna.

Decorative balls, made by EDM wire artist, Cindy Luna.

Decorative wire balls that looked exactly like mine, alongside wire baskets, bowls and nests that looked like they came straight from my own shop. I noticed she also had a long career of exhibitions and shows in galleries across the country. I was told Luna had basically "fallen off the map," in the nineties. Her site hadn't been updated, since 2007, and there's very little written content there, which probably explains why I never found her through google searches related to wire artists.

I made the gold one, Cindy Luna made the silver one, around 1980.

I made the gold one, Cindy Luna made the silver one, around 1980.

I had to learn more about this woman. In the meantime, I asked my North Carolina guy to please send me one of the many Cindy Luna pieces he'd collected, over the years, and he obliged. When I received the six-inch wire ball, I was astonished. It looks a lot like something I made, but I wasn't sure it was EDM wire. It might be stainless steel, but it doesn't matter. The bottom line is that Cindy Luna was making, in the late 1970s, what I had claimed to originate, some forty years later. To be clear, I never said I was the first person to make a wire ball. Most balls made from wire, however, are made from steel, copper, or something else with memory. I simply made the observation, after scouring the internet, that I couldn't find anyone using hard brass wire to make them. Between steel wire and brass, both the process, and the end result are quite different. 

What was Luna's process? Had she spent as long as I had, perfecting the perfect system for producing consistent balls and other shapes? In the end, I guess it doesn't matter how she did it. But the real question was, is Cindy Luna still producing art? Is she even still alive? To find out these answers I turned, once again, to Luna's website, where found a list of galleries representing her. I emailed one of them, in Hawaii, inquiring about her current status. Someone from the gallery returned my email, stating Luna lived on a Hawaiian island, in the jungle, completely off the grid, with no electricity or internet connection. Luna, they told me, only emerges a couple times a year, when she delivers some art to the gallery, before disappearing back into the wild.

All of this was exciting, unbelievable news, to me. But the fact that Cindy Luna was, in all likelihood, the first EDM wire artist, became overshadowed by the story of Cindy Luna, the person.

Artistically, Cindy Luna and I are very similar. Our exploration of material and technique allowed us to (independently) perfect processes for making various shapes from brass wire. The fact that she lives off the grid, and I don't, is the first point at which the two of us probably differ, in our business approach. Maybe, one day, if I'm in Hawaii visiting the gallery that sells her stuff, I'll be lucky enough to catch her in the rare act of dropping off some new pieces. Expect another blog post, if I do!      

Matter of Context: The Problem with Industrial Art

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Over the years, "industrial art," has become freighted with meaning, like a rusty old railcar. For starters, the term is used (interchangeably and problematically with "industrial design") to describe what mechanical engineers get paid to do, and also what creative people with a little spare time do, for free. The former serves a utilitarian purpose, the latter serves a cuItural one. I think of massive sculptures built from old car parts or factory machine gears. Obviously, people have gone in many creative directions with industrial art, but if the goal is to make some social commentary, the trope of anti-capitalism is almost impossible to avoid. The role art plays in bringing awareness to the exploitation of the proletariat is an important one, just not a particularly fresh idea, among artists. I say this as a maker apolitical art, and this is not an advice column about how to wring more social commentary from wrought iron.

Industrial art, as a genre cannot escape its own irony. The tools and machines used by the factory worker take on a new life, as sculptural objects the same factory worker cannot afford, and might not care about. On the other hand, machine parts forged and tooled long ago by engineers are curiously beautiful, especially to those who have never popped the hood of their own car. Those are the people -- not the neighborhood mechanic -- who would buy a seventeen-foot-tall swan made entirely out of VW transmissions. And there's nothing wrong with such a sculpture, it's just not my thing.

I did not know what brass EDM wire was when I first found a pile of it at a metal recycling center. I did find it very aesthetically pleasing. And, although I had no intentions of becoming a "wire artist," I wanted to make a lampshade out of the stuff. This process led to my exploration of the material. Brass wire, I knew, had potential as an artistic medium that went way beyond lamps. Still, I never thought of anything I've made from EDM wire as an exercise in "industrial art," precisely because my finished products make no reference to anything industrial. Most people have hard time figuring out if it's wire, or string.

The problem with industrial art is one of reference. It is difficult to create flower from airplane propellers without the piece referring directly to aviation. An abstract structure made from copper plumbing will always leave you wondering if a guy in a white van charged by the hour to install it. And that's not an insult to plumbers. They have a steadier, better-paying gig than I do.

I am very interested in constraints when it comes to artistic mediums. One could argue that my idea about reference is one of the constraints faced by the industrial artist. But this constraint is not one of material limitation, it is one of content, meaning, representation. Now that I think about it, one my aversions to industrial art is the lack of constraints in the production process. For example, if I owned a welder and knew how to use it, I could easily start building sculptures. With my only constraints being scale and weight, however, I would quickly be overwhelmed by options, paralyzed by possibility. I realize that's not a good reason to avoid learning how to weld, but I never learned. There are far more practical reasons I prefer working with brass wire, instead of clay, paint or iron, but I'll save those for another post.         

If I'm going to draw semantic lines between "recycled art," and industrial art, I would say that industrial art incorporates a manmade product built to produce other products or perform mechanical tasks. Recycled art is created from end-use products. But my point about "reference," in industrial art would often apply to recycled art. Ball bearings could be another artistic medium with industrial origins. They are analogous to brass wire in the sense that their forms (balls) are at once common and abstract enough to be worked into beautiful objects that make no direct reference to industry.

Gallery Show at the 333 Midland Annex Gallery

I had a great gallery show, earlier this month at Highland Park's 333 Midland Gallery. Alongside my work were some stunning wire shapes and images created by Anne Mondro, a University of Michigan Art Professor. Big thanks to Rick Cronn and Robert Onnes, owners of 333 Midland, who rent out a couple dozen studio spaces to professional artists. They also host great gallery shows in the Annex Gallery.   

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Brightwire Designs Teams Up With Metro Detroit Interior Designers

I'm thrilled to announce two great partnerships with Detroit-based interior designers. Rita O'Brien and her husband, Tom, have a showroom at the Michigan Design Center, and they've long been great supporters and dealers of local artists. Royal Oak has always been known as a trendy part of Metro Detroit, and that's where Whiski Kitchen has set up shop. They've quickly become one of the most popular kitchen design studios in the area, which is one reason I'm so excited to have them as a dealer. While Rita and Tom O'Brien will sell my custom decor and art pieces, the folks at Whiski Kitchen represent the custom lighting side of things.  

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Cool lights I did for Palazzolo Salon in Royal Oak, Michigan

Jimi Palazzolo wanted my lights in his Royal Oak salon and I showed up the next day with my ladder and a few wire shapes I thought would look good.

Why Brightwire Decorative Wire Balls Are the Best

Compare the decorative balls made by Brightwire Designs (left) with other brands found on the internet. It's important to draw a few distinctions here; Most wire balls are 4-5 inches in diameter and sold in packs of 3-6. They are generally constructed by wrapping copper or steel wire around an object, a method that doesn't work when dealing with brass wire, which has a more brilliant shine than the other stuff. The potential for customized wire density across the Brightwire line of products allows for a wide range of light refraction from inside the structure. Those same properties allow these pieces to reflect external light in amazing and beautiful ways.

What is EDM wire?

The brass wire these lamp shades are made from is used in a process called electrical discharge machining (EDM), also called die sinking, or wire erosion. The wire itself does not do the cutting; it's the small electrical explosion (my words) that occurs when the positively charged wire comes in contact with the negatively charged metal part that needs to be cut. These cuts can be very small and precise, and it all occurs in a bath of water. Who knew? 

The silver wire is brass electroplated with zinc. I became interested in working with EDM wire because even though it can become tangled, the tangle is manageable and somewhat predictable due to various unique properties. Even so, it’s not the easiest stuff to work with. And although the artist in me ran wild with some of these first lamps, I also wanted to create easily repeatable designs.

One day while I was at the metal recycling center I found several huge boxes full of silver and yellow brass EDM wire. I had no idea what it was but as I moved the tangled mass through my hands I realized it had some very unique qualities I’d never seen in wire, before. No matter how tangled it got, for instance, it always wanted to lay in a horizontal plane. That is, it lays flat under its own weight. And when it bends it wants to hold a certain radius without kinking. When it does kink it becomes very weak and breaks — low tensile/sheer strength — but has very strong linear properties. And, of course, it shines.