Copper in the Arts

March 2013

John Searles: Original, Vibrant, Abstract Metal Sculptures

By Nancy Ballou

embossed tiles Copper embossed tiles using varied patinas.

Photograph courtesy of John Searles.

John Searles was always fascinated with shapes, colors and puzzles. He studied chemistry, obtained a Bachelor's from the University of Missouri and attended art school. After converting a 5,600 square foot factory building on three acres into a living/working place in Harbert, Michigan, with a gallery of artwork inspired by nature, he concentrated on the permanent medium of metals, which he refers to as a celebration of the human spirit.

"Copper is a wonderful metal. It is easy to cut, shape, solder, braze, paint or lacquer," he says. "I was initially drawn to its inherent warmth, as well as being a great way to develop skills for working with metals in general. It can be bent or transformed into a hard metal with hammering. It can be turned on a lathe or melted. Primarily what I love about copper for my metal art wall tiles, sculptures and woven weavings is the range of natural colors."

He also loves experimenting with different patinas, which help create his signature look.

"My patina techniques include chemical acids and bases, fluxes, flames and fire," he says. "With chemicals, I can get a variety of colors and my torch develops bright, beautiful arrays by varying flame temperature. Patinas develop over time and create a look different from paint or glaze. I use chemicals as if painting an abstract. Because I love the soft golden tone of silicon bronze which is 95% copper, I purchase it from Atlas Metal in Denver. I get my copper from Chris Industries in Joliet, IL. Permanent and lightweight, both are great in sunlight and outdoors," Searles explains. "I am also working a lot with stainless steel and aluminum these days."

His imaginative thoughts/designs have led him to become expert in metal fabrication techniques. His flat metal art tiles are block form with a bottom layer of thin under-die, then oversize copper tile which he trims later. They are often attached to masonite, a steel plate, then utilize a hydraulic press to emboss his handmade designs. Virtually waterproof, they can also be used for flooring. Multi-tiled wall art comes in a striking rainbow of colors and is attached with Liquid Nails or a similarly constructed cohesive. "I use both hot and cold connections in my techniques," Searles says.

embossed tiles Copper embossed tiles using varied patinas.

Photograph courtesy of John Searles.

Some of the multi-layered metal art wall sculptures, like rotating triangles, have a beautiful sense of movement. Some are like flowers, opening in the center. "I use special hooks when installing these to create the illusion they are floating on the wall. Open designs are built from individual pieces so the wall and shadows cast by lighting can be seen."

Weavings include wavy or straight strips, circle spiral copper and straight patinated copper strips woven with wire to simulate waterfalls. They are brazed on the back and sometimes on the front, then mounted on copper pipe frames making it easy to attach D-rings or picture wire.

2012 was a very productive and profitable year for Searles. "I did a large aluminum sculpture for Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, FL," he says. "There are two large red sculptures at Sacred Heart Academy in Atherton, CA, two for Florida East Coast Realty and one at BLT Architects in Philadelphia, Camarata Masonry in Houston, Jupiter Holdings in Phoenix, NSF in Ann Arbor and various private collections in FL, IN, CA, NY and MI." He also completed a large private stainless steel sculpture garden for Boca Raton, FL in 2013. He has received numerous awards and is currently working on new designs for Art Prize, along with various corporate sculpture projects.


John Searles, 13462 Red Arrow Highway, Harbert, MI, (269) 469-1509

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