Copper in the Arts

December 2009

Copperhand Studio: In Partnership with Nature

By Janie Franz

copperhand panel Triptych copper panel from Copperhand Studio

Photograph courtesy of Richard

Three years ago, copper artist Richard Hawk of Copperhand Studio had an epiphany. He was making craft art objects, mainly decorative mirrors, using a lot of copper, and showing at places like the American Craft Counsel and having his pieces picked up by galleries.

"The amount of time that it took me to do these things was, in the end, prohibitive," he said. "Then I had this idea: Wouldn't it be kind of simple just to let the plant materials have their voice and let them dominate--just image nature in the copper?"

He tried it, and what emerged was breathtaking. By placing plant materials directly on the copper and then treating the entire surface with acid solutions, Hawk was able to not only capture the grace of the plant's shape but something else--something ethereal.

After some experimentation, Hawk began creating copper images in diptychs and triptychs, which he soon began selling at local galleries. His work continued to evolve and in 1999, while on a business trip to China, he became fascinated with traditional Chinese and Japanese brush painting.

"I read The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, which is a thousand-year-old manuscript on traditional painting, and other texts. It became clear to me that the Eastern orientation of art is very, very different from what we have in the West," he said. "The focus is not on originality. The focus is not even on the end product...the focus is on the process. If you do the process and you forget yourself and your ego and the end product, that is when you become good."

Hawk first applied this concept to his painting, moving away from the pressures of technique and beginning to paint boldly. "I have a strong structure and then I paint with wild abandon from the gut, very intuitively and very quickly, so quickly that I can't even think about it."

copperhand panels Patinated copper diptych from Copperhand Studio

Photograph courtesy of Richard Hawk

His oils began to take on the mutedness of watercolor, and his watercolors began to resemble his copper works, while the copper developed an ethereal, blurred-edge feel about them, as if all of the pieces were similar though in very different media.

"Watercolors and copper are really very similar in the way the media behave," Hawk remarked. "What I love about watercolors is the fact that the pigment and the water do things on the paper that are very natural. It's a wet process. The process of using acid on copper to create a patina on the copper is very much the same in a lot of ways. You get a lot of those same feelings and patterns and textures. That's something natural. It has an elusive, flowing quality."

Today, Hawk buys large 4' x 10' sheets of copper from Industrial Metals in San Diego where the staff makes sure his pieces are dent and scratch free. He gathers plant materials wherever he can find them and keeps shelves of various acid solutions that he sprays or brushes on the copper to create different colors. Sometimes he even uses copper paint on the copper and will spray acid on those as well.

richard hawk Artist Richard Hawk in his studio

Photograph courtesy of Richard Hawk

Though the application of acids to plant materials on copper is a simple process, it is most often an uncertain one. And that is where much of Hawk's creative excitement comes from. "I use these elements very spontaneously and then watch and see incredible things unfolding in the copper," he says. "Some of which are miraculous. You couldn't plan them if you tried. At other times, things happen and you redo it. You always have the option to accept or reject... If it doesn't work, then I have all kinds of techniques to use. Sometimes, I end up with a lot of layers."

The public's response to Hawk's work has been exciting. He has several commissioned pieces hanging in private homes, as well as a large diptych that will be installed in the lobby of a Marriott resort hotel in San Antonio, Texas. Last month at the High Point Market trade show in North Carolina, Hawk unveiled some collaborations with high-end furniture designer John Strauss.


Copperhand Studio, San Diego, CA, (760) 504-4015

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