As a longtime car and motorcycle enthusiast, Chris O’Rourke’s journey from metal fabricator to sculpture artist is a shining example of how materials typically reserved for mechanical applications are equally suited to art when in the right hands. In this two-part series, World Art News has the pleasure of interviewing a unique artist whose pursuit of perfection has resulted in his work being appraised at valuations that just might surprise you…
What inspired you to become a metal sculptor?
As a young boy, my grandfather encouraged me to work with my hands. In high school I discovered the relationship between cars and motorcycles – which I loved, and metal. After building my first motorcycle from the ground up, a friend said it was rolling art, so I decided to do pieces that did not need to be part of a bigger picture, but could rather just “BE”, all on their own.
What countries do your clients primarily reside in, and what is their age?
Currently, all of my clients are in the US. However, with today’s technology I am noticing more and more fans in European countries. The mean age of my clients is 50-65 years old.
What materials do you use to create your sculptures?
I can work with almost all metals, and often do incorporate several alloys in one piece to achieve different colors without the need for high maintenance paints. I prefer to work with stainless steel, despite most metal sculptors not liking it due to its difficult workability.
What makes your art profitable?
I have yet to have a client who cannot see every dollar of their purchase paid out. I work hard on my end to deliver a one-of-a-kind piece that will stand the test of time. In the end, a happy client is what brings true profit.
What is the biggest single deal you ever closed, and what sculpture did your client purchase?
In 2019 I did some work for a client’s residence. They purchased my large-scale piece “Family” for $150,000 USD, a centerpiece in their new home. Due to unforeseen circumstances, they are currently selling the sculpture on the secondary market.
What is the minimum amount you’d accept for a sculpture, and what is the average price of your artworks?
As an emerging artist, my pricing is simply time and material. As previously mentioned, I work in stainless steel, which is about four times more expensive than mild steel. The finish is the most demanding variable in my stainless pieces. Chrome-looking pieces are polished stainless steel, and very labor-intensive. Because every work is original, and there are so many variables in size and complexity, I’m not sure I have an “average price”. A 20-foot tall piece like “Windows” is $350,000 USD, and a 14-inch tall piece like “Invert” is just $2,200 USD.
What makes you unique and sets your work apart from other artists?
What sets me apart from other metal artists is my refusal to produce more than one of any of my designs. That is not to say I will not scale a piece, but it is critical to make sure my clients will never see their sculpture anywhere other than inside their home or business.
How do you come up with innovative ideas to create new thought-provoking sculptures?
Of course, I have many ideas, and try to implement them the best I can. But I find a much more fascinating result when I show up and act. The idea begins forming as I work, but with no clear direction or end in sight. However, this process makes it very difficult to know when the sculpture ends.
Can you talk about your process of finding new clients?
Honestly, sales are not my thing. Most of my clients have come to me through other facets of what I do to keep the lights on. If someone asks about my “other” work, the passion starts to fill the room, and typically they want to be part of it. If I was in front of qualified buyers more often, I’m sure I would become a salesman.
When meeting with a new potential client, my biggest goal is to represent my work the same way it will display in their home or business. If that means a certain light or time of day within which they will most likely engage the piece, I try to set our meeting around that time. Reflective metal has a way of showing you your environment, which changes several times a day according to ambient light.
What are some risks and setbacks you face when looking to expand your art sculpting business?
As we all know, marketing is not free, and as a recovering addict – albeit one who is now addicted to the creative process, most if not all of my resources go to material and consumables to create more art. I have tried different marketing things over the years, things that everyone says will make me a household name, but none have delivered on that promise. I feel my biggest obstacle is getting in front of the right eyes.
Most of the work I create is on speculation, which is limiting because of the available funds I possess. I have had a fair number of commissions, of course, but none with what I would consider “spread my wings” types of budgets. One of the pieces I am currently building on a 5-foot scale, eventually to be 20 feet plus, would easily fetch $2-3 million.
What is your overall outlook on how the art market is changing and developing?
For my work, I believe nothing is better than an in-person experience. No matter how good the picture or photographer, I always hear: ‘this is so much more impressive in person’. I believe we all now have high-quality cameras in our pockets, which works as a beautiful photo opportunity for artists who want to sell and bring notoriety to their works.
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