Accident with life-sized bronze horse results in ‘perfect studio’

In a nondescript back alley in the northwest neighbourhood of Bowness, Scandinavian rock music mixed with an unexpected screech of a chop saw fills the snow-covered lane in this quiet residential neighbourhood.

The garage door is open, allowing noxious fumes produced by welding to escape.

Welcome to Rob Reuser‘s studio.

Welding is part of the fabrication process for Reuser’s art. He learned how to weld while at ACAD in the late ‘90s.

Photo by Samara HawkinsThe 35-year-old sculptor got his first taste of creative metalworking in high school, 17 years ago.

“It was kind of a sheet metal sculpted project of an anatomical spine,” Reuser said, describing his first project. “I based it on an old worn out saw blade and anchored it with fish hooks. It was a really scary, evil, painful looking thing, but the response that I got from it was massive.”

A formally trained sculptor

Reuser continued to follow his passion for art at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD).

In his first year of classes and with the assistance of a sculpture technician, he created a steel snake clutching a hand-blown glass egg — a pivotal piece that required Reuser to learn how to weld.

This project launched Reuser’s passion for the art of welding and solidified his interest in pursuing a major in fine art sculpting.

Reuser ended up leaving ACAD after his second year to work in welding outside the art community.

“There is so much welding work to be done. I’ve always had welding as a career on the side, supporting my art habit,” he laughed.

“I received more education working with metal in the trades than I ever would have if I would have stayed at ACAD,” he said. “I looked at it and thought, ‘Do I want to spend the money and go back to school? No, I’d rather make the money, and sell stuff.’”

With welding as his main source of income, Reuser could spend his free time pursuing his art and music.

As a bass guitarist, Reuser played and toured with local musicians until he injured himself in 2009 working at a bronze casting studio when a life-sized bronze horse fell on him. Reuser suffered a broken finger — a relatively minor injury considering the enormity of the sculpture involved.

Although breaking his finger put music on hold for Reuser, it gave him time to hunt out a suitable studio space for his metalworking — and it paid off.

“I needed a place where the landlord would let me wire in 50 amp service (for the welder).”

Reuser has been renting his current studio space for the last four years and shares the garage with a local jewelry artist and a painter.

Reuser’s latest piece — up close and personal

Metal sculptor Rob Reuser draws inspiration from all areas of his life, especially fly-fishing and music, to create both functional and decorative pieces in his Bowness studio.

Photo by Samara HawkinsReuser’s latest commissioned piece is not only art to be admired, but serves a functional purpose.

Local tattoo artist and illustrator Chris Dow, a long-time friend of Reuser’s, commissioned an adjustable stand for his clients to rest their arms on comfortably while they get inked.

Dow requested the piece have a mechanical, Soviet-era feel, but be easy to keep clean in his tattoo studio space.

“I let him run with it and do what he wanted,” Dow said.

Dow acknowledged there are many online tattoo supply shops that carry equipment that would have met his needs.

“I just wanted a custom piece,” he said. “That’s what I like to spend my money on.”

About 10 hours of fabrication went into the completed piece, which stands about 1 metre tall fully extended and around 45 centimetres when completely compressed.

Although the concept and design came together easily for this piece, not every commissioned piece goes according to plan.

“I’ve started pieces of work and have gotten to a point where I have thrown out everything that I did,” he said. “I have to resolve it and make it something that I love, that I’m happy with.”

Help from a rod, reel, and (Big) rock

When he’s not behind the welding hood in his studio, or welding for a paycheque, Reuser likes to spend his time fishing — fly fishing in the warmer months, and ice fishing in the colder ones.

“It’s meditative, it’s quiet. Whenever I’m around water, I seem to have those eureka moments. If I’m having trouble resolving something, I leave it alone and go fishing,” he said.

Reuser also uses music as inspiration and motivation for his work. Listening to full albums “casts a spell” on him while he works, occasionally with a beer in hand.

He even draws inspiration from the slogan on the case of beer strategically placed beside the fresh air intake in his studio.

“It says right on the box: ‘To create a masterpiece, you can accept no compromises.’ How true that is.”

For more photos of Reuser and his studio space, visit The Lens.

shawkins@cjournal.ca