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Fiercely Curious is an online art & design collective based in Brooklyn.

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TJ Volonis

Wall Hanging Art

The Art of Copper Furniture

About TJ Volonis
We first met TJ at Gowanus Open Studios - showing his copper furniture and artwork. Intricately designed and with a geometric eye TJ creates bold functional art.

But don't be fooled by the strong geometric angular nature of his work - his pieces retain an organic quality emerging from the pipe's molecular structure. Copper is a fascinating material and TJ is a master of the metal - using different techniques and working with the rusting process to achieve different finishes, from it's bright original state to a to a rich deep, weathered tone.
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In conversation with TJ Volonis

Erin: What are you curious about?

TJ: I'm curious about the interaction of contemporary human culture with the environment and our relationship to it. I'm curious about the subliminal and direct effect industry and industrial infrastructure have on our daily lives and our development. Im curious about hidden and unexplored beauty that is all around us.

Erin: Describe your work and describe your process.

TJ: My work, on one level, is about taking a material that is largely hidden from view but intrinsically beautiful, and bringing it into the spotlight and reimagining what it can be. That is expressed through the art furniture I make by changing the function of the material. And it is expressed through the wall-mounted sculptures by accentuating the divide between the natural world and the non-natural world human ingenuity has created for itself.

Erin: We met you through your involvement in Gowanus Open Studios. How has this artistic neighborhood supported you?

TJ: I owe my practice deeply to Gowanus and the organizations that are found there. I need a specific kind of work space that isn’t usually available with most studio programs which focus on paper-based work. Because the process is very industrial and involves fire and treating the metal with sealants I can’t work in those standard art studio space. Also, Arts Gowanus has created a number of educational and exhibition opportunities and is breathing more life in to the artistic community there.
Erin: You lived in Japan for a period. What impression has it left on you?

TJ: Living in Japan and being exposed to Japanese aesthetics gave me a deep appreciation for the intrinsic beauty of things, especially in the unexpected and in nature. Also in the use and value of space.

Erin: How did you get involved in metal work and why copper specifically?

TJ: It was very organic for me. I don’t have any specific art training and taught myself to work with the material. It initially came from a very utilitarian place; I had a very old coffee table that my roommate had dumpster dived. When she moved out I decided to replace the legs of the table with a network of copper tubing. It actually came out pretty well which encouraged me to keep working with and trying to understand the material. The second piece I made was a small chair that I entered into a benefit art auction. Not only was it accepted, but it won its category for mixed media and garnered the attention of a gallerist who wanted to see more of my stuff. I spent the next 6 months or so making new work and presented him with the portfolio. He loved the stuff, but we never got to work together. It did however push me to create more and has propelled me to where I am now.

Copper as a material is quite amazing. Despite being a metal which people consider cold, its very warm and creates a beautiful light. Its also relatively soft as a material and easy to manipulate. And molecularly, its fascinating. The patina--green “rust”--that forms when its exposed to water creates a protective layer whereas other metals rust through. It also realigns its molecular bonds whenever its heated so you can work with the same piece over and over again without it becoming brittle and breaking.

Erin: How do you deal with the oxidization?

TJ: It depends on the piece. Some I polish to a bright new-penny shine then seal with a lacquer to maintain the color. Others I leave unpolished then seal to keep the the scorch marks from the soldering process. And still others I leave unpolished and unsealed which allows the copper to air tarnish over several years. This turns it a deep honey-brown color that is quite beautiful.

Erin: We’ve seen your work shown at both design shows and art shows. How do these ideas interplay?

TJ: They are two sides of the same coin. I believe there is a very fine line between design and art. Some say the presence of a specific function makes it design and the lack of a specific function. I like to play with that line and let people decide for themselves if my work is design or art.
Erin: Chaos vs. Order?

TJ: Chaos and order are the two prevailing forces at work in the universe and effect everything. Its that constant tension and space between those forces that I find interesting. I try to build in both in my work. A piece that looks chaotic and random is often built on a logical and orderly frame work. And a piece that has aspects of order is supported by turbulence and chaos.

Erin: What would your dream collaboration look like and who would it be with?

TJ: A friend asked me that question not long ago and it caught me by surprise. My answer, off the cuff, also took me by surprise. I said I’d love to be given a room at Versailles and would recreate all the furniture in it, piece for piece, with my own work. Each would be a mimicry of the original.

Erin: Your Stump Speech series is made with intricately soldered copper caps stacked side by side. Tell us about the organic symbolism in much of your work?

TJ: That series is commentary on natural destruction by humans. Each piece is a to-scale rendering of a tree stump I found in Prospect Park, near my apartment. Using the material that way creates a pixelated version of the natural form which I find very poignant. With all of our ingenuity and scientific understanding, we can never achieve the perfection that nature has created.
Erin: What goes into creating one of these pieces?

TJ: Each piece requires a lot of repetitive detail work. For the Stump Speech series in particular, I have to make hundreds, if not thousands of smaller pieces that are then soldered into the larger pattern. I find it very meditative.

Erin: What’s the story behind your bad boy profile photo?

TJ: When I was younger I was very interested in marine biology. I spent every summer in Florida and one day we went to Sea World. It was August and hotter than hell and we’d already spent the whole day there. I hadn’t eaten anything and was clearly hating the world by that point. On our way out, we stopped to get a photo ID taken so we could come back the next day and it was captured for posterity. I really love that photo and when I found it in college I thought if I was ever in a creative profession I’d use that image as my business card. 10 years later I had that opportunity.