Copper in the Arts

November 2009

Roland Hockett: Experiments with Copper

By Melanie Votaw

Selection of Paintings A selection of Roland Hockett copper paintings

Photograph courtesy of Roland Hockett

When Roland Hockett decided to become an artist, he was especially inspired by Picasso.

"I noticed that he worked in painting, sculpture, printmaking, and drawing, so I decided that's what I wanted to do," says Hockett. And that's exactly what he did. In fact, all of these art forms will be represented at an upcoming exhibit of Hockett's work called "Copper Magic" in Panama City, Florida where he resides.

The exhibit opened November 6, 2009 and will run until Dec. 5 at the Northwest Florida Visual Arts Center. It includes about 20 large scale sculptures made of copper or aluminum, as well as paintings, drawings, and prints. To create "rays of copper," Hockett also took 20-foot pieces of copper and dropped them down through the track lighting supports from the roof to the floor.

While Hockett's sculptures are distinctive enough, it is his paintings that are particularly unusual. He incorporates copper and acrylic paints in the same work. Created on wood, he begins by drawing the image on the wood and painting it. After tracing, cutting, and flattening each piece of copper that he has chosen for a particular work, he softens the edges and glues them to the wood temporarily. When he is certain that the copper pieces are where he wants them, he nails them to the wood. This is hardly the final step, however.

Hockett often welds more pieces of copper on top of the first layer, which he repaints after adding the metal, sometimes painting over part of the copper surfaces. The welding creates its own set of problems, though. "When the flame hits the acrylic paint, it changes the color or burns it," he says. "I like that because it adds another quality to the work."

After these steps, he burnishes the copper and sprays varnish on it to slow down the tarnishing process. The glue that he used to initially place the copper pieces on the wood also smokes and ignites during the welding process.

Sharon's Shell Sharon's Shell

Photograph courtesy of Roland Hockett

"You destroy, and you rebuild, and it adds a lot of character in between," Hockett says. "My paintings go through a lot of transitions. When I get the copper and put the paint on, that's one problem; when I weld on top of it, that creates more problems. It's like a big puzzle." Since Hockett knows of no one else who works in this way, he has had to figure out his own solutions.

Hockett has created many large scale works for public spaces, including a mural for the Juan Santa Maria International Airport in Costa Rica, eagle sculptures for the Florida Supreme Court, and a 9/11 monument for the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. This monument, which he created in 2004, was a special challenge.

"They wanted everything shipped through U.S. Mail, so I had to design it in such a way that it would all snap together," he says. It took 30 boxes and two weeks of reassembly to complete the work after its delivery in Costa Rica. The final result is a monument of many sections that looks like a 16-foot solid piece.

Another of his large scale sculptures was created for a restaurant. Called "Circles and Sea," the piece includes three six-foot circles and a four-foot wide copper design that goes all the way to the ceiling. Each of the circles include 500-1,000 feet of copper tubing. "I just bent it around and methodically welded or brazed it all together," Hockett says. The end result consists of two layers of copper tubing in rhythmic designs that symbolize water currents.

Hockett purchases his copper from local suppliers. His tubing comes from Engineering & Equipment Co., and his sheet copper comes from Gulfeagle Supply. He generally uses 16-gauge copper and creates his sculptures using thousands of brazed connections. Experimentation is simply part of his process.

"I found out that it's important to play well if you're going to do art," he says. "I find that if I set limits on myself, I may not be making it as free and creative as I need to. So, I allow myself to do whatever the image needs for me to do."


Roland Hockett, 361 Greenwood Circle, Panama City Beach, FL, (850) 235-2011

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