Copper in the Arts

October 2013

Irony: The Heart and Soul of Copper

By Nancy Ballou

Raised on a 500-year-old Bed & Breakfast farm (La Boutiere) in Burgundy, France, Bernard Collin grew up surrounded by beauty. He began making art by foraging the estate for materials for his work---he loved rescuing copper wires and scraps most of all.

Zuma triptych, by Bernard Collins.Zuma triptych, by Bernard Collins.

"In my teens, I created stone sculptures or lamps with copper wound around the base. I also trained in pipefitting," he says. "It can be dirty, strenuous and dangerous, but I enjoyed transforming metal into permanent art with its own personality and soul."

He met his wife and business partner, Mary, a visiting American at the French property. She remarks, "Our plan was to yearly spend six months in France and six in the US, but we landed in California where we remained for 17 years. Bernard's designs were already in many locations."

Bernard says that wine country, mountains and nature have always inspired him.

"I hammer, cut, shape and solder my work by hand because computers are too impersonal and don't show the love I feel for my art," states Bernard. "I began making one-of-a-kind copper lighting plus garden sculptures in the 1980s. I used a tiny gas flame to make all kinds of copper lampshades. Some upscale homes along Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills had worn, unimpressive architectural details. Copper became my specialty and I felt like I was getting back to my roots. I love the look of copper - so warm and timeless. Also, its flexibility since it can be cut, hammered, shaped, rolled, curved and soldered. But I did not like climbing on roofs to do installations," Bernard reports. Some of his indoor/outdoor decor and unique copper weathervanes can still be seen in Venice, CA, and the West Side of Los Angeles. 

Mary adds, "Even in the 1980s, his ideas were quite complex. Often a single pendant would consist of at least 50 small pieces of copper intricately soldered to create a masterful work of art."

After 17 years, Bernard and Mary sold their business and home, moved back to Burgundy and renovated an old house, hoping to do the same with La Boutiere, the family home for five generations. Bernard continued creating copper/metal designs. "But after five years, French small business taxes became overwhelming and we returned to California, thus naming the business Irony."

Zuma triptych panels display his repousse technique. He buys copper from a variety of sources, including Industrial Metal Supply and Copper Component. Bernard hand hammers, then shapes 3' to 6' tall copper flowers, stems and leaves, with or without green patina. His ten copper wall panels flow together from all sides, perfect for a wall covering or door because they are unique and light weight. Unusual whimsical figures and "Pirouette" are made from remnants of Bernard's plasma cut designs. "Jardin" is a patina panel made of copper wire/sheet. 

Copper Tetra, by Bernard Collins.Copper Tetra, by Bernard Collins.

Most sculptures are custom made and have been commissioned for hospitals, restaurants, hotels and private individuals throughout the US and Europe. According to Mary, "Bernard's warm hammering, burning and shaping are what make his work with copper stand out. He has created custom copper lights and tables for such celebrities as Will Smith and Jane Fonda. Also, coats of arms and fountains for beautiful neighborhood homes. His designs are extremely varied." 

Other media is impressive, too. A three piece steel wall hanging, "Sequoia," was used on the set of "Two And A Half Men" and "Saturday" is a pelican sculpted from railroad tracks. He hopes to soon be designing uncoated copper handles.


Irony, 1607 Los Angeles Ave., Suite B, Ventura, CA, (805) 901-2653

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