As a marketing and visual designer, I work with words… a lot. In fact, I can rarely avoid them. Working with them that closely, for so many years, has brought me to where I see the letterforms and word groupings as unique entities—images, in fact. I like their shapes and how they interact. All of that is visual appeal, and it’s a strong appeal. It has little to do with what the words represent (their meaning). Additionally, I’ve come to appreciate how words flow together—how they sound in groups and phrases—rather like lost lyrics from a song or poem. There’s a rhythm and cadence I find comforting. Often, certain groupings of adjectives with nouns actually make me giggle—simply by their unexpected pairing and the possibility of their meaning.
That’s what I’ve done with a series of rusted steel panels I call Lost Lyrics.
When I’d written the phrases, I worked hard not to think of particularly cohesive groupings. The rhythm was more important than any actual meaning. To that end, I found that arriving at the phrase quickly worked better than pondering the possibilities. A ‘stream of consciousness’ approach, if you will.
To physical manifest the phrases, I wanted them to appear timeless and permanent. Using quarter-inch steel, I had them plasma-cut, using CAD files created within Adobe Illustrator. I created a simple font for this. After retrieving the panels from the plasma-cutter, I placed them face-up in my back yard on plastic sheeting. I attempted various procedures to accelerate the rusting process—iron oxide, vinegar, ammonia-based cleaners, even urine. Still, all were left out in all sorts of weather for a few months. Later, half were stored in an out-building and half in the cellar.
These panels were always intended to be exhibited in a group but I never had a clear idea as to where that might be. They were shown in a gallery setting, once only (SCCA, Columbia, PA; October 2012). My ultimate goal would be to permanently install them in an obscure location, i.e.: on the walls of a bridge abutment—lined up, one after the other, creating a freely interpretable storyline.
In total, 15 panels were created. One was purchased early on, leaving 14 in the series. Each panel measures 20-inches wide, and 36-inches deep. The letterforms are cut from quarter-inch HRPO steel and include mounting holes at the four corners, 16-inch on center. Each panel weighs in at 48 pounds. The panels were plasma-cut in summer/fall 2006 but they continue to oxidize, each with their own distinctive rusting quality and pattern.