Our Art of Drive series interviews artists, designers and photographers to find out what inspires them.
Please give our readers an introduction to who you are, where you are from, and what you do?
My name is Michael Ulman. I am a found-object sculptor from Boston, MA with a passion for transforming used and discarded objects and giving them a new life. I'll utilize a vintage vacuum cleaner for a vintage Harley-Davidson sidecar on a model motorcycle, an old wrench for a kickstand or a pair of oven thermometers for speed dials and even a U.S. mail box as the body of a ‘32 Ford hot rod. When a frying pan is thrown out or a broken down weed whacker is discarded, I collect them all with delight, visualising numerous opportunities to re-purpose them in my art.
When did you start building sculptures and how did your life as an artist begin?
At a young age, I spent a good amount of time with my father who is also a found-object sculptor, learning how to weld, fabricate, file and visualise all the possibilities that come with discarded materials. This was my first opportunity to learn and practice my craft and gain invaluable experience working with an assortment of miscellaneous objects.
Who and what have inspired you and influenced your work?
The inspiration to create metal sculpture comes from working with my father and spending time with him searching junkyards, dump, yard sales and swap meets looking for rusty objects to repurpose in our artwork. Even at two years old I would mimic the sounds of motorcycles that I heard around me. It wasn't long before I was drawing them on napkins and eventually re-visualizing them as three-dimensional pieces of art.
How would you describe your style and technique?
My tactile metal work may indeed appear at first glance to be a slightly unconventional homage to the motorcycle or race car, classic icons of speed, power and masculinity. Upon closer examination it’s evident just how unconventional my art truly is. Each piece, which may take years to complete, is constructed with meticulous precision to re-create a vision that I have conceived in my head. Powerful motors are the central force behind my work. The challenge is to create static sculptures that evoke the sound, movement, and raw power that inspire them.
Please take us through the thinking and creative process behind your sculptures.
The creative process begins with imagining a piece that I want to create. I will often sketch numerous drawings of how I want the piece to look and make notes as to what objects may fit the concept. Because of the nature of being a found-object sculptor, it’s important that I stick to the process of actually finding the pieces that I am looking for. Sometimes all it takes is one object for me to get inspired for a project. Other times the search seems endless trying to find a shape that matches my vision.
The best part about what I do is utilising objects once that were destined for a mundane existence somewhere else and give them new life in art. I’ve re-purposed chainsaw engines for motorcycles, Electrolux vacuums for side-cars, baby carriage wheels for hot rods, lamp shades for dresses, suitcases and leather for seats, the list is endless and when it all comes together in a cohesive unity, the satisfaction for me is immeasurable. People who see my artwork often have to look two, three, four times to realise that what they are looking at is actually made up materials that would otherwise end up in a trash dump.
Environmentally conscious enthusiasts are often happy to see recycled refuse is being put to better use. The materials I use do not break down over time, so rather than have them sit for generations in around the Earth, they can now be displayed in galleries and homes anywhere.
Each sculpture once rendered is often sandblasted, painted or polished while others are left alone with their old patina. It could take several months or even years until the exact piece of junk is found to complete a sculpture.