This month’s artist is described as an industrial archaeologist and a Pittsburgh native and lifer. Through eclectic and experimental crafting he resurrects history, while honoring the tradition of the human story and maintaining his loyalty to home. What results is a rustically beautiful art form, born and bred in the steel past of Pittsburgh, and married to contemporary modernism; old utility finding new life in the 21st century’s view of functional design and artistic adornment.
David Calfo has quickly become known as the man in town who can make artwork out of almost anything. His unique skills and strong past in carpentry and construction has given him the artistic eye and the technical know-how to produce artistic masterpieces from otherwise unwanted discards. At his gallery in Lawrenceville, DNA Blue Collar Gallery, Calfo presents his works within a masterpiece itself. As a self-declared salvage artist, the gallery demonstrates this declaration: Calfo came upon an abandoned warehouse and turned it into a work of art to function as his studio and gallery.
On display in the Blue Collar Gallery, Calfo provides examples of his salvage art. In Hungarian Heritage, Calfo has resurrected a wooden steel mold, dating to pre-World War. Adopted from an abandoned mill, the mold would have otherwise been destroyed, but in Calfo’s hands it has found new purpose as a piece of art.
Fascinating about this circular mold is the history of its purpose. Calfo explained its use: the wooden mold was placed in sand. The sand would form around the mold, and then the mold would be removed. Hot liquid steel would be poured into the void in order to create a steel version of the shape to be used for various purposes. This large mold initially used for entirely utilitarian purposes (to produce something else) can now be enjoyed as artwork, speaking of its former role in the steel industry as it is reborn as contemporary artwork.
Another of Calfo’s wooden pieces is The Hunky Rail Gang. Calfo referred to this piece as having helped build the Empire State Building, and considering its age and Pittsburgh’s stake in the steel industry, it may well have. This piece has a presence when viewed in person that cannot be captured two-dimensionally. Standing against the wall like figures, the mold becomes a group of men. This harkens to the steel workers of the past and has personal relevance for Calfo, growing up within a steel family; three generations of Calfo men having worked the mills. In this, we are introduced to what can be understood as Calfo’s artistic purpose and creed: to revive historical items for the purpose of reliving the items in a new light, working to remember and to honor the past that has built the present, and to waste nothing, not item or memory.
In line with not wasting, Calfo has even discovered a use for the byproduct of the steel molding. He has come upon a collection of pieces of glass which were created when the hot steel hit the sand. The pieces of glass took on different hues: various shades of green, blue, and yellow. Calfo plans to turn this steel-made glass into jewelry; pieces of ornamentation to be worn to honor Pittsburgh’s steel past.
Proving Calfo’s ability to manipulate materials and work in multiple mediums, on display on the left-hand wall when you enter the gallery is what can be described as a collage of mirrors. This large piece is comprised of different mirrors, some dating to the early 20th century. Unbroken and uncracked, the mirrors’ survival is miraculous. Preserved for all this time, the mirrors now have new purpose as functional artwork, and also a “reflective” purpose. As suggested by Calfo himself, think of all the people who have looked upon their own image in these mirrors in which you now look? Something to think of when viewing an antique is to think of those before us who have used, gazed upon, and built it. Items have an existence not just in the present.
Related to this thought, Calfo has constructed an installation on the opposite wall of the gallery. Here, a collage of doors brings to mind years of passage; generations of people crossing the threshold to their home or business. Various colors, ages, and sizes, the doors were replaced by their newer counterparts, left to the trash, and consequently, gathered by Calfo, seeing them not as trash but unexpected keepsakes of Lawrenceville.
Some of the most mesmerizing of Calfo’s works are Soul Searcher and The Seeker. Made of the wood from the McBride Log House once located in Lawrenceville, these wood pieces are made from one of the oldest and last remaining original log buildings to survive in a metropolitan area. Wood that would have been destroyed has now been reborn in sculpture. The figures no longer reflect the structure of building material, but have taken on an organic fluidity, a delicate and lyrical grace that is not a typical adjective of lumber. Finished in resin, the figures are smooth and appear melted.
A more severe character can be found outside. Hanging off the wall of the Blue Collar Gallery, the figure composed of salvaged metals and gears, the robot-like humanoid looming above is organic yet mineral, art yet trash, non-living yet seemingly aware. Calfo explained that he fashioned a camera to the figure’s shoulder when exhibited at an art show. The camera fed to an old black and white television, and onlookers saw their own image in the grainy screen.
While you can enjoy this particular piece by simply walking past the DNA Blue Collar Gallery, it is recommended that you step inside to truly experience Calfo’s unique artwork. Check out the artist’s website for more information http://www.davidcalfo.com. The website provides many means of contact including phone and email. David is a huge fan of Twitter. Follow @davecalfo for updates on the artist’s life and work, and be sure to contact him if you have that one item passed down from your great-grandfather that you don’t know what to do with but from which you can’t bear to part. He takes commissions as well, and as made clear above, sees the beauty in everything, and has a particular ability to visually communicate this beauty to all who view his work.
To see more pictures from this shoot check out our Facebook page - Photos taken by Chancelor Humphrey