shifting gears

Sculptor Kevin Caron reimagines the shape of objects.

Contemporary Sculptor Kevin Caron has traveled an unusual path to becoming an artist. After high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and worked as a mechanic before returning to Buckeye, Arizona, to run an auto body repair business with his stepfather. Wanting to do something different, he shifted gears and became a truck driver.

The open road proved to be an imaginative place for Caron. While delivering wood pallets throughout the state, he would pass the time thinking about how different parts of the semi-truck, such as the steering column and the tires, worked together to orchestrate movement as the scenery rolled by.

His habit of mentally manipulating abstract concepts would lead Caron to take another, somewhat accidental, route 13 years ago—this time into the realm of modern fine art, where he discovered a natural fit for his endless curiosity and knack for reverse engineering.

The start of Caron’s art career essentially began when he made a privacy screen out of a steel conveyor belt for his front lawn. The functional, but creative sculpture sparked considerable interest, and was followed by an order from a private art collector to build the same screen, only bigger. Soon, more requests for Caron’s fabricated pieces started to pour in and he realized his art was a legitimate endeavor.

“So I parked my 80,000-pound rig and became a full-time artist,” he says.

Today, Caron, whose studio is ironically housed in a former auto repair garage in Phoenix, is well known for his welded, large-scale metal pieces. He produces both indoor and outdoor private and public art, including works commissioned by the cities of Chandler, Avondale, and Tucson.

Self-taught, Caron downplays his elevated status in today’s contemporary sculpture scene even though he’s won Best of the West Arts & Culture Award, Sculptor of the Year by ArtTrends magazine in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“I have a hard time describing myself as an artist or a sculptor,” he says. “I’m basically a welder and fabricator, but I make pretty things, too.”

About a third of Caron’s work is done in either steel, bronze, aluminum, brass or copper—like “Moonshine,” a kinetic sculpture that twists. He also uses found and used objects to express his vision. His series of meditative bells, for example, are fashioned out of compressed gas tubes. Nature is often represented in his pieces, such as “FireStick,” a large-format commissioned piece he made from authentic railroad spikes that mimic a pencil cactus.  

Caron exposes himself to other art forms to interpret his appreciation of shape, size and proportion. For the last three years, he has explored 3-D resin printing, bringing sculptural life to linear configurations he’s imagined and then conceived via technology. His first exhibit to showcase the unique sculpture technique, “Endless Line: 3-D Printed Work of Kevin Caron,” was held at Scottsdale’s Walter Art Gallery in February.

Regardless of the medium he uses, Caron examines the mechanical nature of things before he ever lights a welding torch, bends a piece of metal, or uploads a CAD design to his 3-D printer.

“Creating a 3-D piece is similar to metal works. I still take things apart in my mind and put them back together,” he says.

According to Caron, he failed both math and art in high school, but it’s hard to detect a deficit in either discipline when looking at his evocative modern sculptures that display rough edges, as well as precise measurements.

“I still haven’t found what I enjoy most, so I work on everything,” Caron explains of his creative range that includes jewelry and rarely seen drawings, which were recently featured in his show “Time Line: Sculpture and Drawing by Kevin Caron” at Central Arts Plaza in downtown Phoenix. “I’m still playing with shapes and learning new tools.”

Part of Caron’s educational progression has involved a few lessons in the art of doing business. During the recession, he and his wife Mary Westheimer, who is also his manager, hired an art consultant to harness Caron’s talents and growth in the creative industry.

“It helped us think strategically about art and identify the strongest markets for his work,” she says.

While many artists mysteriously protect their creative process, Caron happily passes along his knowledge about welding and fabrication techniques in a weekly series of popular YouTube videos he and Mary have produced since 2008, an effort with more than 400 videos, 36,000 subscribers and 9 million views.

The bottom line for Caron is to make his artwork meaningful to passersby, whether it’s a 4-foot printed resin sculpture or a mammoth public art metal installation.

“As long as I can touch someone, that’s the goal.”

Story by Sally J. Clasen

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