Reduce, Reuse, Reinvent

Reduce, Reuse, Reinvent


Nude IV (Delilah), 2009, typewriter parts, 36 x 32 x 66 in.
Photo by Josh Miller

Jeremy Mayer transforms typewriters into arresting, anatomically-correct sculpture

Nude IV (Delilah) is a striking beauty: a 6-foot-tall woman, casually reclining, with a hint of a smile in her assertive gaze. Her personality is palpable, and her maker, Jeremy Mayer, wouldn't have it any other way. He spent more than 1,400 hours assembling Delilah out of typewriter parts, meticulously manipulating them until he'd caught life in her orbital metal eyes.

"I feel like the parts do that for me," says Mayer, who has been building typewriter sculpture for 16 years, ever since a Goodwill-bound Olivetti landed in his hands. Instead of dropping it off, he disassembled it.

Over the years, the California-based artist has come to see typewriters as a natural material, like wood or stone. People mimicked nature when designing them, he explains. And when you take them apart you're left with an elemental assortment of metals, rubber, plastic and wood. In his hands, those elements become arresting anatomical sculptures.

Mayer doesn't weld, solder or glue; he crafts his figures exclusively with materials and mechanisms native to the machines. He made the decision early on. "I didn't want to see wired-on, extraneous materials," he says. "I wanted a cleanness of assembly." He also didn't want to strip away scratches and dirt-almost literally, the human fingerprints-to prepare pieces for those other modes of construction. Those blemishes draw people in, he says. Like names carved into a tree, they're the proof that someone was there-using a typewriter, putting their hands on it.

As he has honed his unusual craft, two anatomy books have been his constant, grease-stained companions. Mayer has assembled busts, body parts and full human figures, as well as various animals and insects. Cat X recoils in an exaggerated hiss. His latest, Deer III, stands on spindly legs with a brightly cocked head. There's so much vitality here it's strangely easy to forget that his creatures began their lives as machines.

Mayer finds the distinction irrelevant. Everything in the world, natural or human-made, is part of one closed system, he says. This ethos is the most futuristic element of his art, never mind the aesthetic. "There are a lot of things we've created that are just sitting around inert," he says. Not all of it can be buried, not all recycled. In our collective detritus, Mayer sees an opportunity-even a mandate-for reinvention. This is our chance to "take everything we have, pick it all apart, choose the best parts and reassemble it," he says.

He's not alone in his views. His work has seen a recent surge in popularity, attracting attention from magazines such as Wired and Make and the website BoingBoing. In addition to having exhibited pieces at the Nevada Museum of Art and Mulvane Museum in Topeka, KS, he's been showing this past year at Device Gallery in San Diego, and 5 Claude Lane in San Francisco, and has found creative camaraderie in Applied Kinetic Arts, a collective of artists whose work incorporates some degree of sound, motion or interactivity.

"We're going to make a lot more junk, and there's going to be a lot more junk art," Mayer says. "I think people are going to have a lot to say about it, and more people need to think about it."

Julie K. Hanus is American Craft's senior editor.